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This Sporting Life

This Sporting LifeThe late and very great Richard Harris
  is sadly missed but he leaves behind
  a legacy of remarkable films, including
  one of his best performances in This
  Sporting Life
, from the Sixties, which is
  now available on DVD
...

A TERRIFIC ACTOR AND A GENTLEMAN — in spite of his reputation as a rebel-rouser — Richard Harris took on a number of diverse roles that reflected his unquestionable talent. Lindsay Anderson's This Sporting Life is no exception and will be released as a restored edition on DVD on 3 November (2008).

One of the most notable films from cinema's British New Wave phase, this multi-award winning, gritty and powerful northern drama stars Richard Harris (Gladiator, Harry Potter) as the frustrated Frank Machin and Rachel Roberts (Saturday Night Sunday Morning) as the embittered widow Margaret Hammond with whom he lodges — both on perfect form in one of the films that came to define the Sixties.

Based on a novel by David Storey, This Sporting Life is filmed in black-and-white and is set against the bleak landscape of Northern England. Frank Machin works as a miner until his competitive nature and powerful physique lead him to follow a sports career and join the local rugby team from where he is to find success.

The film opens with the rough and tumble of rugby and Machin is depicted as a proud and brash northerner from a working class background whose attempts to draw Margaret Hammond into a relationship fail miserably and only serve to infuriate her. Her children, Lynda (Bernadette Benson) and Ian (Andrew Nolan) clearly adore him and it is only with youngsters that Machin's sensitive side emerges.

Machin is a man of violent contrasts. His pent-up aggression, insecurities and frustrations intensify when he is signed by the City Rugby League Football Club — he begins to appear more basic than he actually is. His obsession with Margaret overrides everything, but he is irritated by her sullenness and her insistence on keeping her dead husband's boots polished and by the fire. The suppression of his sensitive side only serves to alienate others further.

Club Secretary Mr Riley (Michael Logan), Chairman Gerald Weaver (Alan Badel) and Charles Slomer (Arthur Lowe, Dad's Army) are not all in accord with Frank but he revels in the crowd's cheers and is keen to show off his skills.

Margaret's whole demeanour softens as she talks about her late husband, Eric, but she harshly accuses Machin of being cocky and measures him against her husband. When Machin shows her his cheque for his signing to City, she is put out that she didn't get that much when her husband died. She rarely smiles and she refuses to admit that she cares for Machin — she had feelings for her husband, she says, and he died.

When Frank goes out drinking with his friend Maurice (Colin Blakely) and Maurice's fiancée Judith (Anne Cunningham) and arrives at his lodgings drunk, there is a change in his relationship with Margaret, but her continued indifference and rudeness towards him causes hostility between them.

Weaver's wife Ann (Vanda Godsell) makes a pass at Frank that he rejects, and when another girl throws herself at him at a party, he becomes angry. But the tension between Frank and Margaret finally comes to a head, and by the time he acknowledges his love for her, it is already too late…

Richard Harris goes deep into the psyche of Frank Machin with a rare understanding of the man and Rachel Roberts is splendid in her depiction of a woman sadly embittered by life — a partnership that makes This Sporting Life a great film that stands out for characterisation and plot development. Harris won an award for Best Actor at Cannes; Roberts got a nomination and Director Lindsay Anderson a Palm D'Or nomination.

This Sporting Life benefited from the co-operation of Wakefield Trinity Rugby League Football Club and also features Jack Watson as Len Miller; Harry Markham as Wade; George Sewell as Jeff; Leonard Rossiter as Phillips; Katharine Parr as Mrs Farrer; Peter Duguid as the doctor; Frank Windsor as the dentist; and a terrific character part for William Hartnell (the first Dr Who) as Johnson. Photographed by Denys Coop; Art Director: Alan Withy; Film Editor: Peter Taylor; Music composed by Roberto Gerhard and conducted by Jacques-Louis Monod; Screenplay by David Storey; Produced by Karel Reisz; and Directed by Lindsay Anderson.

Network is proud to bring This Sporting Life to DVD on 3 November (2008). This version of the film has been taken from an HD print in the correct aspect ratio so this is the first time the film can be viewed on DVD as it was meant for a cinema audience. RRP: £12.99 | Total Running Time: 128 minutes approx | Screen Ratio: 1:66.1 | Black-and-White.

Special features

Digital restoration of the film in the correct aspect ratio | Original Theatrical Trailer | Extensive image gallery | Promotional and Script PDFs | Commemorative Booklet by Film Historian and Lecturer David Robinson.

"Richard Harris goes deep into the psyche of Frank Machin with a rare understanding of the man and Rachel Roberts is splendid in her depiction of a woman sadly embittered by life — a partnership that makes This Sporting Life a great film that stands out for characterisation and plot development" — MotorBar