The Ice King Review
John Curry is perhaps one of the greatest figure skaters that has ever donned those bladed skates and slid around on frozen water. In 1975-1976 at the height of his career he was the Olympic Champion, the World Champion, the European Champion and the British Champion. However, he is an important figure both on and off the ice; through his graceful and balletic routines, he changed the face of male figure skating forever. He campaigned strongly and spoke openly about his sexuality and when he was diagnosed as HIV positive he spoke about that too. He is a key figure both in the artistry of figure skating and in the representation of LGBTQ+ people in sport, yet no-one has really told his story since his death in 1994. Enter James Erskine and Victoria Gregory, highly accomplished sports documentary filmmakers with the likes of Shooting for Socrates, From the Ashes and Senna under their respective belts, who now turn to the rink as they attempt to condense all that John Curry was into The Ice King.
This is a well-constructed and researched documentary. It covers all the important parts of John Curry's life, his childhood, his first experience of ice skating and his relationships with his parents, his friends and lovers. It is easy to follow as it is presented in chronological order, taking us from his sporting victories to his artistic pursuits. However, The Ice King promises much but in the end, does not quite deliver on what it tries to accomplish.
We are made aware of the tragedies and struggles of John Curry's life; his overbearing father, his struggle with his sexuality, his relationship to trainers and coaches within the world of ice skating and his eventual retirement and death from AIDS in 1994. However, these are only given cursory glances. We are briefly told about how John's sexuality was viewed, the stress of running his own skating company, his partying and depression, but these are mere glances and not really discussed outside the vaguest allusions to them, before the documentary quickly moves on. Instead, it feels more like a greatest hits piece, showing us stock footage of John’s performances and shows, training footage and interviews.
I understand that they were trying to tell a story that concerned a deeply important message about sexuality and prejudice, but it appears that the message comes at the expense of the central figure and as such is lessened as we are never fully connected to Curry or his struggles, because, as the film tells it, he never really faced any huge ones, which I am sure is a huge misrepresentation. As such The Ice King only pays lip service to the subject of its documentary, which is a shame because I am sure that it would have been fascinating to see how Curry struggled against a world that did not want him to succeed.
For someone like me, who had never heard of John Curry, this documentary paints a decent if generalised and shallow picture of what it was like the be homosexual in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. It also imparts the importance of Curry's legacy in the film and how he changed the face of male figure skating and the perception of figure skating forever, both as a dancing art form and what type of person could do it, just as I, Tonya provided a dramatised version of the life of Tonya Harding.
Outside the film itself, Dogwoof has done a serviceable job on the disc. The 1080p 16:9 aspect ratio and 2.0 Stereo, as well as the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack all play well without digital or much analogue error on the stock footage. While there are no subtitles, which is disappointing as the sound can get a bit quiet at times, the mechanics of the disc menu are easy to navigate. Alongside the film, Dogwoof includes a Q&A session with the film’s director to give a glimpse into his process of making the film and a little more insight into John Curry's life that this documentary unfortunately doesn't provide.
All in all, The Ice King is an entirely serviceable documentary, one that tries to cover so many different areas of John Curry's life and legacy, but seems to overstretch itself and never really goes into the depth the man deserves.