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This Sporting Life (1963)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Frank Machin is a tough Rugby League player in Yorkshire. In a match an opponent punches him, breaking his front teeth. He is taken to a dentist by his team-mates and the club owner, Weaver.

As he goes under the anaesthetic he remembers the events leading up to this moment. He is a miner, lodging with a grieving widow, Margaret Hammond. She rejects his friendly advances and treats him with disdain. At a dance hall he sees the rugby team being fêted and starts a fight with the captain. Outside he sees an old talent Scout, Johnson, and begs him to get him a trial.

At the trial game Frank deliberately injures a team-mate who won't pass to him and subsequently plays very well. Johnson comes back with him to the lodgings. When he leaves Margaret points out that the old man's attentions may not be platonic.

The club is controlled by two competing rivals, Weaver and Slomer. When they try to sign him Frank drives a hard bargain, but succeeds in getting a £1000 contract. Weaver drives him home and tells him that Margaret's husband's death at his factory was thought to be suicide. Margaret is unimpressed at his triumph and Frank reacts angrily.

Frank comes round at the Dentists and is taken on to the club Christmas party at Weaver's house.

He remembers buying his expensive car and taking Margaret and her two children on a trip to Bolton Abbey. She seemed to be becoming happier.

Frank has now become a big star at the club, with a 'hard man' image and a tendency to behave in a boastful and boorish way. He is infuriated at Margaret's lack of interest in his success. At the house he forces his sexual attentions on to Margaret.

After telling his friends that women don't frighten him he responds to an invitation from Weaver's wife. She is predatory and intimidates him so he leaves her house. He has started a kind of relationship with Margaret but she refuses to open up her feelings, as she is terrified of disappointment.

At the party Frank stumbles into a room with the Weavers and Slomer. He is now out of favour with Weaver and depends on Slomer's patronage.

Frank buys Margaret a fur coat and takes her to a restaurant but embarrasses her with his coarse and abusive behaviour. They go to his friend Maurice's wedding but Frank hits Margaret when she tells him that she is not happy and regards herself as dirty for associating with him. At home she tells him that the neighbours despise him for his showing off and look down on her. She regards him as a great ape on the football field and orders him out. She is starting to look unwell.

Frank meets Maurice and tells him that he is obsessed with Margaret and her inability to admit she needs him. He says that she makes him feel stupid and brutish but he wants to feel love.

When he returns to Margaret's house he finds she has been rushed to hospital. He is told she has had a brain haemorrhage and she dies as he is at her bed. He returns to the house and is overcome with grief. Despite his emotional pain, the next Saturday he has to continue to play rugby and risk physical injury.