Set in the raw, earthy mood of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Taste of Honey and Room at the Top this has a gutsy vitality. Karel Reisz who directed Saturday Night, produced this one and his influence can clearly be seen. Lindsay Anderson, making his debut as a feature director, brings the keen, observant eye of a documentary man to many vivid episodes without sacrificing the story line.
Based on a click novel by David Storey, who also scribed the screenplay, the yarn has a sporting background in that it concerns professional rugby football. Richard Harris plays miner Frank Machin who, at first, resents the hero-worship heaped on players of the local football team. But he has second thoughts. He gets a trial and soon becomes the skillful, ruthless star of his team. He revels in his new prosperity, and preens at the adulation that’s showered on his bullet head. He doesn’t realize that he is being used by local businessmen opportunists.
Anderson has directed with fluid skill and sharp editing keeps the film moving, even at its more leisurely moments, Denys Coop’s lensing is graphic and the atmosphere of a northern town is captured soundly.
Among the varied sequences which impress are a horrifying quarrel between Harris and Rachel Roberts, a hospital death scene, a poignant interlude at a wedding when Harris first approaches the moment of truth, a rowdy Christmas party and a countryside excursion when Harris plays with the widow’s two youngsters. The football scenes have a live authenticity.
Harris gives a dominating, intelligent performance as the arrogant, blustering, fundamentally simple and insecure footballer. Roberts as a repressed widow, brings commendable light and shade as well as poignance to a role that might have been shadowy and overly downbeat.
1963: Nominations: Best Actor (Richard Harris), Actress (Rachel Roberts)