Released by: Dogwoof Entertainment
Directed by: James Erskine
Run Time: 88 minutes
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, John Curry was an artist and an athlete whose body time and again – sometimes against his will – became a political battlefield.
The Ice King tells the captivating true-life story of John Curry, a young man from Birmingham who would go on to transform the world of figure skating, changing it from a rigid sport into the art it is today. Before Torvill and Dean became household names, John Curry paved the way.
Whilst I won’t admit to knowing a great deal about sport (anyone who has seen me try to do any will attest to that) I was incredibly surprised by how much I didn’t know about figure skating. For male skaters, the sport was more of a display of athletic ability, rather than the balletic form it is now.
This was the world into which the young John Curry entered, a man who had wanted to go into dancing and ballet but was prevent from doing so by his father, who felt that it was an un-masculine pursuit. Through his passion for dance and his deep sensitivity he would go on to change the entire sport, wowing judges and audiences across the world in competitions and even the Winter Olympics.
The film shines a light on his passions, on the dedication that he put into his craft, and how it would go on to direct his entire life; leaving competitive figure skating to establish his own touring skating company that modelled itself on a traditional dance company, travelling around the world to perform to sold out audiences.
The Ice King shows another side to John Curry, however, as it explores the pain and depression that he suffered through, a part of people’s lives that aren’t often shown to the public. More than once in the documentary Curry says ‘Whatever greatness I possess, there are demons of equal value’.
One part of this is due to John being gay, a factor that would shape his life in huge ways, both because of the era of rampant homophobia that he lived in, but also because of his coming out on the day that he won his Olympic gold medal.
This is one of the more fascinating parts of the documentary, seeing the world that John had to live in, seeing grown men addressing rooms full of children warning of the danger of ‘queers’, or the hatred towards the gay community during the AIDS crisis.
Unfortunately, due to John Curry dying of an AIDS-related heart attack in 1994 he is unable to take part in this documentary himself, though through the use of archived interviews, camcorder footage of performances (which are often times the only footage in existence, complete with audience members getting in the way and shaky handling), and interviews with people who knew him the documentary feels incredibly in depth and personal.
There are sections of the film that use extracts from his personal letters to provide insight into his inner thoughts during some of the bigger events of his life, voiced by a particularly good voice impersonator. Whilst I don’t always like these kind of methods in documentaries, it works very well here.
The Ice King brilliantly brings together archive footage, voice over interviews, and candid video to deliver a truly well crafted and thoughtful documentary, telling the tale of a man that changed an entire sport and influenced thousands of people across the world.
The Ice King is now available from Dogwoof Entertainment.