This Sporting Life 1963 ****

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Love him or hate him, and the excesses of his later work didn’t appeal to many, Lindsay Anderson was a true auteur long before the French made the term fashionable; his 1963 drama This Sporting Life is a brilliant sports picture, featuring a massive performance by Richard Harris. As rugby league footballer Frank Machin, Harris kicks and punches his way to a living, but his aggression comes at a personal cost via his relationship with Margaret (Rachel Roberts). Anderson has made his name with ‘free cinema’, a well-observed documentary form, and his stack black and white photography adds verisimilitude to Machin’s fall from grace. Arthur Lowe and Leonard Rossiter went on to feature in Anderson’s later films, and This Sporting Life is a milestone in British cinema; terse, downbeat but with a vibrant beating heart in Harris’s towering performance.

 

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O Lucky Man! 1972 *****

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Lindsay Anderson’s 1972 magnum opus takes Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) on an epic journey through the social strata of 70’s Britain. Starting out as a salesman, Travis becomes involved with pop music via Alan Price, Love with Helen Mirren, suicide, big business, international intrigue and some extremely strange scientific experiments. The recurring characters he meets are played by a stock company of actors including Arthur Lowe, Sir Ralph Richardson, Graham Crowden and Rachel Roberts, allowing Anderson to draw up a fierce polemic about the capitalist system and the struggle the individual faces to live within it. McDowell is excellent as Travis, Price’s songs are wonderfully expressive, and O Lucky Man!’s string of excellent, involving scenes from David Sherwin’s script add up to 184 minutes of ambitious, striking slice of British cinema at its most idiosyncratic.