sporting life

This Sporting Life

This Sporting Life is also a radio program in Australia. See This Sporting Life (radio program)
This Sporting Life is a 1963 British film based on a novel of the same name by David Storey which won the 1960 Macmillan Fiction Award. It tells the story of a rugby league player, Frank Machin, in Wakefield, a mining area of Yorkshire whose romantic life is not as successful as his sporting life. Storey, the author, a former professional rugby league footballer, also adapted the script.

The film stars Richard Harris, Rachel Roberts and Alan Badel. It was adapted by David Storey from his novel and directed by Lindsay Anderson, and is considered to be one of the last major films of the British New Wave or "Free Cinema" movement.

The film was Richard Harris's first starring role, and won him a best actor award at Cannes. He was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Rachel Roberts won another BAFTA award (her first was for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning) and an Oscar nomination for best actress. Harris was nominated for the BAFTA that year but was pipped by Dirk Bogarde for his role in the Joseph Losey production The Servant.


This was Anderson's first outing as a feature film director, although he had won an Oscar for his short documentary, Thursday's Child (1953). The project had first been discussed by the Rank Organisation as a possible project for Joseph Losey, the exiled American film maker later known for his long collaboration with writer Harold Pinter, and then was passed to Karel Reisz who, reluctant to produce another film on a Northern England subject so soon after Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, passed it to his friend, Lindsay Anderson. Anderson accepted and Reisz produced.

Notable among the supporting cast is William Hartnell, who would go on to international fame as the original Doctor Who. It was his role in This Sporting Life which brought Hartnell to the attention of the first Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert. It also featured the future Dad's Army star, Arthur Lowe, who also appeared in later films by Anderson.

Many of the scenes in This Sporting Life were filmed at Wakefield Trinity's stadium at Belle Vue.


Anthony Sloman has characterized the editing of A Sporting Life as follows, "By 1963 the British New Wave had beached, and Peter Taylor edited the superb This Sporting Life, the debut feature of the cine-literate director Lindsay Anderson. It is a remarkable study of working-class angst, with a cutting style like no other British feature before it, an ever-underrated achievement by Taylor..." A specific description of the editing has been given in the 2001 book by Don Fairservice:

Lindsay Anderson on directing Richard Harris

Anderson, who often developed unrequited feelings for unobtainable heterosexual men, wrote in his diary on 23 April 1962, after the first month or so of production: "the most striking feature of it all, I suppose, has been the splendour and misery of my work and relationship with Richard." He felt that Harris was acting better than ever before in his career, but feared his feelings for Harris, whose combination of physicality, affection and cruelty fascinated him, meant that he lacked detachment he needed as a director. "I ought to be calm and detached with him. Instead I am impulsive, affectionate, infinitely susceptible.

Critical reception

On first release, the film was a disaster with the home audiences and the critics, and prompted head of the Rank Organisation to announce that he was pulling out of British New Wave, "kitchen sink" dramas.

In the United States, the film was well received. Variety praised its "gutsy vitality", and praised the production of Reisz and the directorial feature debut of Anderson, who "brings the keen, observant eye of a documentary man to many vivid episodes without sacrificing the story line.


Filmed in Wakefield, the film is about a bitter young Yorkshire coal miner, Frank Machin (Harris). Following a nightclub altercation in which he takes on the captain of the local rugby club and is beaten up by the entire team, he is recruited by the team's manager, who sees profit in his aggressive streak.

Although somewhat initially uncoordinated at rugby, he impresses the team's owner, Gerald Weaver (Badel), with his spirit and brutality of his playing style during the trial. He is signed up to the top team as a loose forward and impresses all with his aggressive forward play. He often punches or elbows the opposition players throughout the game.

Off the field, Frank is less successful. His recently widowed landlady, Margaret Hammond (Roberts), uses him for sex but in her grief she cannot give him love, and he leaves after a row. Weaver and his predatory wife treat him as a commodity, to be used and discarded. When he finds that Margaret is in hospital, he goes and tries to give her solace, but she dies. In the end he is seen as "just a great ape on a football field", vulnerable to the ravages of time and injury.


The houses used for the outdoor scenes in This Sporting Life were actually fimed in Servia Terrace in Leeds. The canteen van was parked in Servia Grove.


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