Monday, July 5, 2010

Rachel Roberts in This Sporting Life

British actress Rachel Roberts received her only Academy Award nomination for playing Mrs. Margaret Hammond, a widow having a stormy and tragic relationship with the aggressive and violant rugby player, Frank in This Sporting Life a movie directed by Lindsay Anderson. It's an interesting fact that her husband, Rex Harrison was also among the 1963 nominees in the Best Actor category. And they both went home empty handed, but I don't think that it was much of a shock as when performances like this won, it was always a huge upset (=Simone Signoret in Room at the Top).

This Sporting Life is a typical member of the depressing free cinema movies or as I like to call them, chimney movies. It's quite tragicand mostly raw and tough, however the direction of Lindsay Anderson is great (though it's not as fantastic as If...), the actors give very good and subtle performances even though only the two leads stand out to be honest. Richard Harris' acting is great, though it took me some time to like it or even get used to it (I don't know somehow I felt he was miming Marlon Brando a bit). Nevertheless, I feel he deserved the nomination, but not the win (at least not over Sidney Poitier).

And of course, there's Rachel Roberts. Nowdays, she's not frequently mentioned in discussions about movies in general, despite the fact that in my opinion she's one of the most underappreciated actresses. Her presence is very intense and raw, in my opinion she was born to play these disappointed wives having stormy affairs with violent men (just like in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, check that one out). She caught the problems of these simple, working-class women with such sympathy and deep understanding, that is quite uncommon among actresses. I never actually felt that it was Rachel Roberts there, acting. I always saw a devastated, ashamed woman, terrified of what she and her life in general is becoming. She's always concerned about her reputation, pride and her children naturally.

The way Roberts captures the grief of this woman is truly outstanding and harrowing. She can never admit that her husband's death (always cleans his boots) was not pure accident and she cannot really live without him or with Frank either. She's doesn't know how to act and this uncertainty is truly heartwrenching to watch. Margaret is a very conventional and simple woman, but Roberts brilliantly shows that she dreams of something better and that she deserves a much better life. Her scene at the restaurant is simply marvellous: she does not know how to act, she's like a scared little animal, but she's simply heartbroken and deeply ashamed of Frank's behaviour. The way she says thank you to the waiter, nearly made me sob: it was so real, so natural and it felt so unforced. Only a real acting genious could do that.

Roberts is always in control of the character technically, although her performance mostly relies on the emotions and the impact on the audience. This is one of the most effective performances I've ever seen and the most brilliant (and smart) thing about is that you really don't recognize at first how tricky Roberts is with you, the viewer. I would not say that her presence is magnetic, because this is not that type of acting, she (just like Leslie Caron and Pat Neal) kills with her naturality and realism. Another perfect example is when she puts the Christmas presents into her children's stockings. Her kindness and love shines through the scene and it becomes nearly divine, which fills your sould with feelings that are hard to desribe.

I must also mention her breakdown scene towards the end, when she's confronted by the sheer, ugly truth about her husband in a very merciless way (led by the selfishness and anger of Frank). She's just unforgettable as she does not want to listen, only wants to hide from the world and get her husband back the only one who could make her happy.

Roberts also brilliantly shows how the relationship between her and Richard Harris becomes more intense and complicated. At first she's very hostile to him, but in the end she's just disgusted and terrified of him. When she leaves the restaurant, we know that everything is over.

So, finally I can say that this is the third fantastic performance of this bunch (in a row and it's so great), so it will be really tough to do that ranking in the end. Heartbreaking, natural, simple, unforgettable. Four words that perfectly describe Roberts' acting in This Sporting Life.
This time I can't give you a link unfortunately. But let's discuss in case you've seen this movie. I'm also waiting for some predictions. Tomorrow, I'll do Natalie Wood in the morning and the final conclusion in the evening or the following day.


Louis Morgan said...

Hmm looks this is a strong year for you, it usually is not described as such, but then again it usually is not talked about at all. My original prediction may be right but I will switch to:

1. Leslie Caron
2. Patricia Neal
3. Rachel Roberts
4. Natalie Wood
5. Shirley Maclaine

dinasztie said...

Yes, I find it very strong and I simply love it. Three fantastic performances so far, which definitely means that this is a great year.

And your prediction makes much sense, although nothing's sure.:)