The Ice King (4 stars)

The Ice King

credit: Christie Jenkins

Touching and triumphant documentary celebrating British ice skating legend John Curry

Director James Erskine is best known for his riveting 2013 Billie Jean King documentary The Battle of the Sexes (later retold as the Emma Stone / Steve Carell drama); his latest is a powerful portrait of champion ice skater John Curry. Encompassing sport, sexuality and rebellion, it's a story that's as triumphant and inspiring as it is deeply tragic.

Denied ballet lessons by his factory-owning father, the young John Curry found an outlet for his love of dance on the local Birmingham ice rink and quickly became a competitive figure skater. Coached by Carlo Fassi, Curry became Olympic and World Champion in 1976 at the age of 26, capturing the public imagination and changing the sport forever with his artistic and balletic interpretations, a radical move at the time.

A previously private man, Curry was outed by a newspaper on the eve of the 1976 Olympic final, becoming the first openly gay Olympian when homosexuality was not-long legal and still highly taboo. The Ice King traces his subsequent successes and struggles (against prejudice and bullying, as well as his own inner demons) until his tragic death from an AIDS-related heart attack in 1994.

No stranger to exhaustive research, Erskine has assembled a wealth of fascinating archive material that includes a number of revealing conversations with Curry himself, as well as a trove of letters he wrote to family and friends. These include his first boyfriend and subsequent confidante Heinz Wirz, who's on hand for poignant interviews here, alongside various trainers, contemporaries and skating experts.

The film also includes extensive footage of Curry's stunningly beautiful performances, not just in competition, but also on stage in the ice-shows he choreographed as head of his own dance company. What emerges is a touching portrait of a man fiercely devoted to his profession, who used his body for both artistic and personal expression and lived life on his own terms. This is a must-see for fans of the sport – here's hoping enterprising programmers double-bill it with I, Tonya, also in cinemas this week.

Limited release from Fri 23 Feb.

The Ice King

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • UK
  • 1h 29min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: James Erskine
  • Cast: John Curry
  • UK release: 23 February 2018

Documentary about the champion ice skater John Curry, who was outed on the eve of the 1976 Olympic final but who went on to win the Men’s Singles Gold medal, permanently raising the profile of skating. A powerful portrait of sport, sexuality and rebellion.