A British film from the 50’s about professional boxing. We get to meet those fighters who participate in a one-night event that involves a programme of many fights.
This film is like a snapshot of a long lost era of British filmmaking. We have great characters, a sly sense of humour at play and grit in the way the sport is portrayed as completely corrupt and in turn corrupting.
The film also shows how truly brutal the sport is. The ending is totally gut-wrenching and completely unexpected.
We also get British film royalty in the guise of legends such as Joan Collins, Joan Sims and Sid James as part of the cast.
Like many people the only thing I knew about ice skater Tonya Harding before this film was the incident of violence that she inflicted upon Nancy Kerrigan. This film deals with Tonya’s upbringing and her life in general leading up to this point.
One striking feature of the film is that it well and truly breaks down the fourth wall with characters speaking to the audience and even disputing their version of events as the alleged events are being played out. Theres even one sequence in which Tonya’s mother admonishes the film’s screenwriters as she seems to have dried up in the film’s narrative.
The film depicts the sheer insanity of the events that led up to the fateful encounter with Kerrigan but it never feels like this has been exaggerated or that it descends into farce. Theres an air of authenticity as we see the craziness and dysfunction unfurl before our bewildered eyes.
The setting of working class America also feels real, warts and all. The film depicts the obstacles to true success and the snobbery that Tonya has to endure and overcome. Theres an irony to the nouveau riche mothers, skaters and judges of ice skating looking down on Tonya for being cheap and trashy when all of the contestants are encouraged to look that way but without the actual poverty. The mainstream world of the sport doesn’t like the real thing but rather a contrived and affluent ‘faux’ version of it. It reminds me of a Dolly Parton quote- ‘It takes a lot of money to look this trashy’.
But whilst many events in the film are hilarious and surreal, the incidents of domestic violence depicted are as harrowing and serious as they deserve to be. These sequences still disturb, as well they should.
There are amazing performances from the central three actors of Stan, Robbie and Jenney as Tonya’s mother- a force of nature who is great entertainment on the screen but would be a nightmare in real life.
A special mention is needed for the soundtrack- any film that features both Siouxsie and the Banshees and Fleetwood Mac is something very special indeed.