This Sporting Life
Film poster by Renato Fratini
Directed byLindsay Anderson
Screenplay byDavid Storey
Based onThis Sporting Life
by David Storey
Produced byKarel Reisz
StarringRichard Harris
Rachel Roberts
Alan Badel
William Hartnell
CinematographyDenys Coop
Edited byPeter Taylor
Music byRoberto Gerhard
Distributed byRank Organisation
Release dates
7 February 1963 (London, West End)
Running time
134 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget£230,000[1] or £197,381[2]

This Sporting Life is a 1963 British kitchen sink drama film directed by Lindsay Anderson. Based on the 1960 novel of the same name by David Storey, which won the 1960 Macmillan Fiction Award, it recounts the story of a rugby league footballer in Wakefield, a mining city in Yorkshire, whose romantic life is not as successful as his sporting life. Storey, a former professional rugby league footballer, also wrote the screenplay.

The film stars Richard Harris, Rachel Roberts, William Hartnell, and Alan Badel. It was Harris's first starring role, and won him the Best Actor Award at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival.[3] He was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role. For her work in the film, Roberts won her second BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The film opened at the Odeon Leicester Square in London's West End on 7 February 1963.[4]


Set in the fictional city of City, the film is about Frank Machin, a bitter young coal miner from the West Riding of Yorkshire. The first part of the story is told through a series of flashbacks when Frank is anaesthetised in a dentist's chair, having had his front teeth broken in a rugby league match, and recovering at a Christmas party. The second part takes place after he has fully regained his senses, and proceeds without flashbacks.

Following a nightclub altercation, in which Frank takes on the captain of the local rugby league club and punches a couple of other players, he asks a scout for the team to help him get a tryout. Although at first somewhat uncoordinated at the sport, he impresses Gerald Weaver, one of the team's owners, with the spirit and brutality of his playing style during the trial game. He receives a large signing bonus to join the top team as a loose forward (number 13) and impresses all with his aggressive forward play. He often punches or elbows the opposing players—and sometimes even those of his own team.

Off the field, Frank is much less successful. His recently-widowed landlady, Mrs Margaret Hammond, a mother of two young children, rebuffs Frank's attempts to court her and treats him rudely and abrasively. She lost her husband in an accident at Weaver's engraving firm, but received little financial compensation, because the death was suspected to be a suicide. One day, Frank takes Margaret and her children to play in the River Wharfe next to Bolton Priory. Another time, Margaret gets annoyed when Frank comes home drunk. He desires her sexually and, eventually, grabs her and forces her onto his bed. Her daughter interrupts them, but then she acquiesces and they have sexual relations.

At Weaver's Christmas party, Frank quarrels with Weaver and his predatory wife, whose advances Frank had rejected, much to her chagrin, and it is clear that he has lost Weaver's favour, though Slomer, the team's other owner, still supports him. When he gets home after the party, Margaret agrees to share his bed to keep him warm, as he looks unwell with his swollen face and missing teeth, but, in her grief, she cannot really return his affection, saying she is scared to invest her feelings in one person, as they might go away or die. She sometimes insults him, referring to him as "just a great ape", and, on their first proper date, Frank insults the staff and flaunts protocol at the fancy restaurant to which he takes her. Margaret is embarrassed and leaves, and the scene is witnessed by the Weavers.

Maurice, Frank's friend and teammate, gets married, and Frank and Margaret attend the ceremony. When Frank goes over to congratulate the couple, Margaret walks away. She says she feels ashamed, like a kept woman, especially since Frank bought her a fur coat. He strikes her, and then says he thought she was finally becoming happy. On another occasion, she says that their neighbours think she is a slut and she and the children are not "proper people" because of Frank. They have a row, and Frank goes out drinking with Maurice. He says he wants another job, "something permanent", and believes Margaret needs him, though she does not realise it.

Frank tries to talk to Margaret, but she defends her privacy, saying he knows nothing about Eric, her husband. He says she drove Eric to suicide, and Margaret, outraged, demands that Frank leave and starts throwing his belongings out of his room. Frank says he loves her, but she is furious with him. Eventually, he goes to stay at a cheap boarding house in a bombed-out area, leaving his Bentley incongruously parked outside.

Intending a reconciliation with Margaret, Frank returns to her house, but a neighbour says she is in hospital. The doctor tells him that Margaret is unconscious, having suffered a brain haemorrhage, and that she may not have the strength, or perhaps the will, to survive. Frank sits with her, holding her hand and talking gently. Distracted by a large spider on the wall, when he looks back at Margaret, blood seeps from her mouth, and she dies. In his rage, Frank punches the spider. He does not speak to the children or their minder when he leaves the hospital. Returning to Margaret's house and breaking in by the back door, Frank wanders through the empty space and calls out her name before collapsing in tears.

In the closing scene, Frank is seen on the rugby field, now exhausted and vulnerable to the ravages of time and injury.



This Sporting Life was Anderson's first feature film as director, though he had made numerous short documentaries in the previous fifteen years, and even won an Oscar for 1954's Thursday's Children. The film had first been discussed by The Rank Organisation as a possible project for Joseph Losey, and then Karel Reisz, who, reluctant to direct another film with a similar setting and theme to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), suggested that Anderson direct it, with himself serving as producer.

Among the film's supporting cast is William Hartnell, who shortly afterwards began his role as the first Doctor Who; it was his role in This Sporting Life that brought Hartnell to the attention of Doctor Who-producer Verity Lambert. The film also features Arthur Lowe, who would go on to star in Dad's Army and appear in four later films directed by Anderson. In addition, Edward Fox, Anton Rodgers, and Bryan Mosley appear as uncredited extras.

Filming locations

Many of the scenes in This Sporting Life were filmed at Belle Vue, the home stadium of Wakefield Trinity, and Thrum Hall, the home stadium of Halifax. The scene where Frank (Richard Harris) leaps from a bus to buy a newspaper, and then leaps back onto the bus, was filmed at the top of Westgate, Wakefield. The location is still instantly recognisable, and has changed little in the decades since. The houses used for filming the outdoor scenes in This Sporting Life were in Servia Terrace in Leeds.[citation needed] The riverside location where Frank takes Margaret and her family for an outing in his new car is Bolton Priory in the Yorkshire Dales.


Anthony Sloman wrote about the film's editing:

By 1963 the British New Wave had beached, and Peter Taylor edited the superb This Sporting Life, the début 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.[5]

Another description of the editing says:

From the start, Lindsay Anderson and his editor Peter Taylor show a determination to pursue a flashback-based narrative using bold-cut transitions. ... Cut-transitions link these plangent and understated images together in way that seems to demand that their meanings be understood. It is an important restatement of the way that image-driven filmmaking engages the spectator.[6]


Anderson 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 the detachment he needed as a director, continuing: "I ought to be calm and detached with him. Instead I am impulsive, affectionate, infinitely susceptible."[7]


Critical reception and box office

Critical response to the film was favourable. In the United States, the Reuters news agency described it as being praised unanimously by the critics for New York City publications.[8] Variety praised the film's "gutsy vitality", as well as the production of Reisz and the directorial efforts of Anderson, who "brings the keen, observant eye of a documentary man to many vivid episodes without sacrificing the story line".[9]

On its initial release, the film was a commercial flop with British audiences and did not recoup its cost.[10] John Davis, the Chairman of The Rank Organisation, announced that the company would not venture further with "kitchen sink" film projects, nor would his company make such a "squalid" film again,[11] and This Sporting Life has been seen more generally as ending producers' willingness to back such British New Wave films.[12] However, after 13 years, the film had earned a distributor’s gross of £92,612 in the UK and £128,599 from overseas.[2]

Writing in 1980, John Russell Taylor thought it a mistake to link This Sporting Life with the "kitchen sink" films released in the preceding few years, because its "emotionalism" made it "unique", setting it apart from the earlier works:

...every scene in the film is charged with the passion of what is not said and done, as well as what is...Though real enough and believable enough, this kind of amour fou is remote indeed from what the staid middle class cinema would generally consider as realism."[13]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[14] Best Actor Richard Harris Nominated
Best Actress Rachel Roberts Nominated
British Academy Film Awards[15] Best Film from any Source Nominated
Best British Film Nominated
Best British Actor Richard Harris Nominated
Best British Actress Rachel Roberts Won
Best British Screenplay David Storey Nominated
Cannes Film Festival[16] Palme d'Or Lindsay Anderson Nominated
Best Actor Richard Harris Won
Golden Globe Awards[17] Best Foreign Film – English-Language Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Rachel Roberts Nominated
National Board of Review Awards[18] Top Ten Films 5th Place
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[19] Best Actor Richard Harris 3rd Place
Valladolid International Film Festival Golden Spike Lindsay Anderson Won

Home media

On 22 January 2008, the film was released as a Region 1 DVD by The Criterion Collection.

See also


  1. ^ Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p176
  2. ^ a b Chapman, J. (2022). The Money Behind the Screen: A History of British Film Finance, 1945-1985. Edinburgh University Press p 191.
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: This Sporting Life". Retrieved 27 February 2009.
  4. ^ The Times, 7 February 1963, Page 2
  5. ^ Sloman, Tony (1998). "Obituary: Peter Taylor", The Independent, 6 January 1998. Online version retrieved 8 April 2008.
  6. ^ Fairservice, Don (2001). Film Editing: History, Theory, and Practice: Looking at the Invisible (Manchester University Press), p. 316. ISBN 0-7190-5777-9. Online version retrieved April 13, 2008.
  7. ^ Diary entry, 23 April 1962, on Richard Harris and the making of This Sporting Life (LA 6/1/33), Anderson Collection, University of Stirling; Paul Sutton (ed) The Diaries of Lindsay Anderson, 2004, London: Methuen, p75
  8. ^ "British Film Liked By All N.Y. Critics". The Times. Reuters. 18 July 1963. Retrieved 1 July 2018. (subscription required)
  9. ^ This Sporting Life, excerpt from a 1963 review, Variety, accessed 15 February 2008
  10. ^ French, Philip (7 June 2009). "This Sporting Life". The Observer. Retrieved 1 July 2018.
  11. ^ Booklet for This Sporting Life, region 2 DVD, Network 2007, unpaginated [p23].
  12. ^ Wickham, Phil. "This Sporting Life (1963)". BFI screenonline. Retrieved 1 July 2018.
  13. ^ John Russell Taylor "Lindsay Anderson and Free Cinema", in Richard Roud (ed) Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, Volume One, 1980, London: Secker & Warburg, p76-82, 79
  14. ^ "The 36th Academy Awards (1964) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on 2 May 2015. Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  15. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1964". BAFTA. 1964. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  16. ^ "16ème Festival International du Film - Cannes". (in French). Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  17. ^ "This Sporting Life – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  18. ^ "1963 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  19. ^ "1963 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". Mubi. Retrieved 5 July 2021.