The Ice King

Review by Hannah Woodhead @goodjobliz

Directed by

James Erskine

Starring

John Curry

Anticipation.

Not a name familiar to many outside of professional skating. Is its appeal too limited?

Enjoyment.

Curry is an undeniably interesting figure, particularly when he speaks for himself.

In Retrospect.

Beautiful and graceful, but just a little bit too cold.

James Erskine’s documentary delves into the life of revolutionary British skater John Curry.

Long before Torvill and Dean became the faced of British figure skating, the ice was as metaphorically cold as it was physically. In the early days down at the rink, every jump, swoop and glide was to be executed with stiff precision. For male skaters, their routines were rousing displays of athletic prowess – not the soulful frozen ballets more familiar to a contemporary audience.

Somewhere down the line, skating turned into a lyrical pursuit combining technical ability with artistic flair. The Ice King seeks to chart the transformation of ice skating into the Winter Olympics mainstay which consistently brings audiences to tears, through focusing a lens on one man credited with changing the game.

The subject in question is 1976 Olympic and World champion John Curry, who makes for a fascinating subject due to his impact on the world of professional skating. It’s difficult to know how much this documentary will appeal to anyone without at least a passing interest in the sport, but John’s single-minded determination to skate in his own, ballet-influenced style, had an undeniable impact.

Although Curry died in 1994 from an AIDS-related heart attack at the age of 44, he lives on the authentic accounts delivered by those who knew him best, who for the most part avoid falling into overwrought sentimentality, as his confidants remain keen to stress Curry’s undeniable talent, but also his flaws (chiefly being difficult to work with, and often careless with the feelings of those closest to him).

Curry often proves to be his own best source material due to the wealth of video footage of him that exists, both on and off the ice. The film flits between these clips and talking heads, as well as employing Freddie Fox to narrate a selection of Curry’s personal correspondence with fellow skater and ex-lover Heinz Wirz. Fox affects Curry’s distinctive accent with remarkable accuracy in what’s a fairly risky move – blurring fact with fiction in order to bring Curry back to life. Insights into the world of professional skating prove fascinating too, such as how The Royal Albert Hall was transformed into a skating rink for one of Curry’s shows.

There are parallels to be drawn between Curry and Odette of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, and the film has a deep sense of melancholy about it, highlighting early on Curry’s struggle with his mental health, as well as the pressure placed upon him as a gay sportsman in the 1970s. It’s slightly strange then that the film goes to great lengths to convey this struggle, and then writes off the reaction of audiences as being fairly unremarkable. The framing feels a little preoccupied with Curry’s status as a gay man.

The biggest success of The Ice King is bringing together the compelling archive footage of Curry’s skating routines and their haunting classical accompaniments – it’s clear that Curry had a lasting impact upon the world he inhabited, and being afforded a glimpse into this for a short amount of time feels like a privilege. It’s a shame The Ice King can’t focus more on Curry’s legacy than his personal life.

Published 22 Feb 2018

Tags: John Curry

Anticipation.

Not a name familiar to many outside of professional skating. Is its appeal too limited?

Enjoyment.

Curry is an undeniably interesting figure, particularly when he speaks for himself.

In Retrospect.

Beautiful and graceful, but just a little bit too cold.

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