Reference DVD Review: This Sporting Life

The Criterion Collection
Movie •••½ Picture ••••½ Sound •••• Extras ••••

Lindsay Anderson's 1963 feature debut takes place in an industrial town in northern England, and the film gets its setting just right, in a way that can only be described as in-your-face. But This Sporting Life still resonates today because of its unflinching portrayal of an affair - doomed from the start by malignant, internalized emotions - between a half-brutish local rugby hero and his repressed, widowed landlady, portrayed in career-highlight performances by Richard Harris and Rachel Roberts.

The black-and-white image on this DVD is shockingly good: razor-sharp, beautifully contrasted, and artifact-free. The mono sound is so vivid in dialogue and effects that it could have been recorded last week. On the commentary track, Anderson scholar Paul Ryan offers a great deal of information on the director and the production, fleshed out with salient details from author/screenwriter David Storey.

The bonus disc is better yet, including two early Anderson documentaries that show how well he knew the area that Storey was writing about. Also here is the director's final TV film, Is That All There Is?, a sobering portrait of both himself and a deteriorating England, finished the year before his death in 1994.

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