by Charlotte Harrison
The Ice King tells the bittersweet story of John Curry – a man regarded as the greatest ice skater of all time yet one who has also been forgotten by time. He turned a much-relegated sport into an event watched by millions across the country and across the world. Influenced by ballet and modern dance, each of his performances was a piece of art. At the 1976 Winter Olympics in Austria he was the flag bearer for the UK, bringing back a Gold medal for singles skating then later winning the BBC sports personality of the year. Yet these successes brought Curry little happiness.
Early on in the documentary someone who knew Curry describes how ‘skating became the escape’. It’s easy to see why. Intimate family photos, accompanied by letters he sent & received, paint the portrait of a difficult childhood. Growing up in a working class household in Birmingham he had a difficult relationship with his father. His father disapproved of boys dancing so 12 year-old John went for figure skating lessons instead. His talent was obvious from the outset but he was unable to do it full time for financial reasons, in time he gained loyal patrons leading him onto international acclaim & admiration.
In the course of 89 minutes we get an overview of Curry, from starting to skate to his death from AIDS aged 44. A short life depicted in a short amount of time inevitably means that some aspects of a life get more focus than others, occasionally things get said that attract our curiosity yet don’t get developed. The unhappiness he felt throughout his life is stated by all of the documentary participants; the causes are speculated upon but never fully devilled into. Its human nature to want answers, but such is the way of anything to do with mental health – we can only ever guess at how others are feeling. Only the individual going through the experience can actually know. The people who knew him saw him as a walking contrast – charming yet brutal, distant yet needy, ambitious yet self-destructive.
Curry isn’t hear to explain how he felt at certain times or why he felt that way, but what he has done is left us with a legacy that deserves more attention than it currently receives. The Ice King compiles his letters (read oh-so-soothingly by Freddie Fox), audio of a whole range of interviews past & present and rare archive footage of Curry skating. There’s long forgotten performances that were televised and even fan footage that has lasted the tale of time.
And what footage it is to behold. Curry skated with sheer, unadulterated elegance; every movement precise and superbly controlled; the epitome of elegant power. Off the ice he also made history, when shortly before the 1976 Winter Olympics he was outed by the press as being gay – at a time when homosexuality was not fully legal.
Thanks to this sharing of memories Curry’s legacy should once more become part of the cultural landscape once more, earning him the reverence he fully deserves.
The Ice King is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!