‘The Incident’ is probably one of the most commonly known stories associated with competitive figure skating and it happened on January 6th 1994.
Amongst a quiet training session ahead of the Winter Olympics, Nancy Kerrigan left the ice and was whacked in the knee with a baton, an injury that would put her whole career in doubt.
This isn’t a story about Nancy, however, it’s about rival skater Tonya Harding, whose boyfriend Jeff Gillhooly ordered the hit. Growing up on the wrong side of the tracks,Tonya never had much as a child and her only solace was her ability to ice skate.
Little did Tonya know that after ‘the incident’ she’d be one of the most disgraced and hated figure skaters to ever take the ice.
Rather than play the narrative of I, Tonya simply to build to that single moment, Craig Gillespie’s visceral biopic makes a virtue of the audience’s prior knowledge. Cutting back and forth to recorded interviews from the key players, we hear the stories and background first hand. It’s an engrossing technique that strips back not only the setting, but also the characters themselves. Suddenly, they’re telling the story to you and we’re living it all over again.
From the foul-mouthed language of Tonya’s mother to the quick cuts and heavy
soundtrack, I, Tonya is brash, in your face and, just like Tonya Harding herself, makes no apologies for its behaviour. It’s punchy, exciting and doesn’t take itself that seriously. Like me, you may find yourself laughing more than you might have expected.
The whole host of larger than life characters burst out of the screen with great effect but none more so than Tonya Harding and Lavona Golden. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney deserve all the awards buzz coming their way. Their relationship isn’t the easiest to watch at times but, with two fiery personas that take absolutely no shit whatsoever, you’re left hanging on their every conversation.
For someone who personally figure skated competitively for 7 years growing up, it was pretty cool to see it depicted in such a way on the big screen. Who knew it could be that cinematic? The visual effects to put Margot Robbie front and centre work superbly and it’s comforting to see the technicalities of figure skating handled in such a considered and mature way.
Although very few of us will ever be the level of an Olympic figure skater, the themes in I, Tonya are universal. Like Tonya, we’re all looking for our place in the world and that gratification of being accepted for who you are, not who they want you to be.
Whether you know about ‘The Incident’ or not, I, Tonya works in simply telling the story of how a little girl from Portland, Oregon attempted to become the best in the world, only to take one of the most incredible falls from grace in recent memory.
This review was written ahead of its UK release as part of a Screen Unseen event at Odeon. I, Tonya is out in cinemas on 23rd February 2018.
By Jordan Barrett