Richard Harris received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Frank Machin in This Sporting Life.
Richard Harris's performance is rather strange, because he imitates, or channels (depending on which way you look at it) Marlon Brando to such a degree. It is not like he is sort of like him, he talks like him in this, he makes many of the same gestures and reactions as Brando does in On the Waterfront, and Streetcar, and most of all he looks almost like a dead ringer for Brando in some moments of this film. This is something that certainly is noticeable in his performance, but it is not distracting. I was always aware of it most certainly but I never thought it was a problem. His Brandoisms are not a problem because well they work incredibly well for the part of this angry young man, who is a working class miner but finds his success on the Rugby field.
Harris is quite striking in fact as this young man having this tremendous intensity throughout the part. In fact despite the fact he most likely took time to establish his manner like Brando's in this film, it really feels like a natural realistic performance, that never really seems calculated or forced in the emotions that attempts to portray. Harris is exceedingly realistic in his performance, and that is why he leaves a memorable impression. He never is set in portraying Frank in just one way, he is always showing to be a real person who certainly changes from day to day, situation to situation quite naturally. Harris shows that Frank can seem like a likable fellow one moment, and than be a complete animal in another.
Harris for example on the Rugby field becomes a complete animal. He has this extreme vicious nature shown on the field that has an incredible impact. Harris though shows that he brings it off and on the field though in various ways, and quite randomly. The randomness of how Harris shows Frank act in various situation, works so well because this unpredictability fits the character of Frank so perfectly. This most important and powerful part of Harris performance though is Frank's relationship with Margaret (Rachel Roberts) the widowed woman he is a boarder to. Their relationship is fascinating because the film never missteps with the relationship neither does either performance who work wonders together.
They have this strange chemistry that is quite interesting. It is not a one sided relationship nor a loving one, it is something else entirely. Each show reservations against each other her over his boorish behavior, he over her thoughts over her dead husband. Both actors create the perfect relationship of a sort of mutual desperation, as well a mutual hate along with the hint of a love as well. This was a most difficult relationship to pull off, but the actors do it magnificently. Harris's whole performance is a risky affair. He never ever tries to be likable, and perhaps he is not but his authentic creation of this man is amazing to watch. Harris performs each of his transitions, as well as his emotional changes with incredible ease. It is a powerful memorable performance, that never treats his character as a simple man, but showing instead that even a brutish man like this is still a man of incredible complexities.