(2019, 89 min)
Director: James Erskine
Studio: Film Movement
John Curry transformed ice skating from a dated sport into an exalted art form. Coming out on the night of his Olympic win in 1976, he became the first openly gay Olympian in a time when homosexuality was not even fully legal. Toxic yet charming; rebellious yet elitist; emotionally aloof yet spectacularly needy; ferociously ambitious yet bent on self-destruction, this is a man forever on the run: from his father's ghost, his country, and even his own self. Above all, an artist and an athlete whose body time and time again - sometimes against his will - becomes a political battlefield.
With the Winter Olympics getting everyone excited for ice and snow (fair weather bad weather fans), it’s the perfect time to revisit some of those trail freezers that left their marks in the ice. One of the greatest, was John Curry. A male figure skater who wished to incorporate the elegance and grace of the female performers into his own routines. Charting the rise of Curry to Olympic gold success, The Ice King then turns its focus to Curry being publicly outed by a German newspaper, before embarking on a worldwide show.
Figure skaters having to be outed may seem strange in a time where homosexuality is more accepted. The flamboyant dress and balletic movements hardly scream of the stereotypical masculinity prevalent in so many other sports. It’s a point Curry discusses himself in archive footage, and how despite being banned from dancing by his father, figure skating was acceptable as it was a sport. It’s this element of oppression that drives the first half of this triumphant sports documentary. Seeing Curry embrace his passion while at the same time ruffling the feathers of the status quo, is an enjoyable and inspirational narative. Curry himself is a delightful protagonist, mixing just enough whimsy and charm with his confidence and ego to avoid feeling distantly talented and more down to earth.
Director James Erskine has carefully blended narrative and facts before, most notably in The Battle of the Sexes, which inspired the Emma Stone/Steve Carrell dramatic retelling from last year. It wouldn’t be surprising to see The Ice King face a similar adaptation, as it hits all the emotional and dramatic cues one would expect. From Curry’s humble beginnings to a difficult home life, to breaking the expectations of the sport, to a number of love affairs, to the eventual climatic tragedy. However, Erskine is faced with delivering two films essentially, with Curry's rise in the Olympics culminating halfway through, with his post-Olympic life detailed in the second half.
There is almost too much focus on what comes after, with the focus on his skill and talent making way for his sexuality. Perhaps used to comment on the difficult balance between fame and celebrity, Curry's outing was perhaps not the whirlwind of controversy one might expect. Although the exploration of his ideas on figure skating and dance are of interest, the emotional crescendo peaks too soon.
The Ice King is a familiar tale of sporting success, but one done fantastically well. It is a soaring spectacle of amateur footage and true heart. It captures the struggles of being the best, challenging convention, and the pressure from fame and success. When grainy, jittery, and less than clear video camera footage can still capture some of the majesty of Curry's work, you know you are watching something special.
-- Review by Luke Ryan Baldock, The Hollywood News (http://www.thehollywoodnews.com/)