Peter Baker

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 479

[This Sporting Life] is more about life than sport, less about kitchen sinks than the people who live near them. It is also unique: which in Britain means it risks being misunderstood by the public, torn to shreds by the critics and ridiculed by the Wardour-street hucksters.

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I had expected a simple film about simple people. What Anderson has done is to make as complicated a film as Welles' Citizen Kane about people as complicated as … you or me. It is the intensity of thought that has gone into This Sporting Life that compels attention and, finally, admiration. Whether in the final analysis it achieves communication, I am not so sure….

Anderson's film is almost a perfect example of the British temperament to compromise. It has no excesses: its very balance of style and content is as disarming in its conventionality as Burton beer and Cheddar cheese. Yet the one provides as substantial a meal for the mind as the other does for the belly. In a period in world cinema when one can only be square like Hitchcock or Hawks provided the hep youngsters like Truffaut or Godard applaud you, when almost any experiment is praised by almost every critic just because it is an experiment, when even the Italian renaissance is in danger of losing communication with its audiences through sheer intellectualism, it is good to find a new director who believes that art of its very nature owes some allegiance to tradition. That the director should be Lindsay Anderson will surprise only those who have innocently misunderstood or wantonly misinterpreted his conception of 'commitment'. This Sporting Life takes a crisis in a man's life and makes of it the fulcrum of the whole film….

The structure makes use of nearly every piece of cinema vocabulary since films learned to talk (indeed, some of the juxtaposition of images reminds one of Soviet or German cinema of the late 'teens and early 'twenties). There is never any sense of gimmickry or intellectual snobbism; instead a sense of honest craftsmanship applied to the problem of how best to project the story.

There are weaknesses. The characters and their dialogue smack of the real thing, but too often Anderson's direction of his actors betrays his long stint at the Royal Court….

If I have over-praised This Sporting Life it is because I was expecting arrogance and saw compassion, expected Socialism and saw an apolitical humanity. It is a film to delight anyone who enjoys craftsmanship in the cinema, it is a film to make you think; and, I hope for a great mass audience, it is a film in the best sense, to entertain….

If This Sporting Life fails to pay its way, there is no future for the British cinema.

Peter Baker, "'This Sporting Life'" (© copyright Peter Baker 1963; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 9, No. 6, March, 1963, p. 32.

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