By Jess Fenton
11th June 2018

Thanks to the recent and successful release of ‘I, Tonya’, the modern appetite for dark and interesting behind-the-curtain tales of the world of competitive figure skating is surely rife - a perfect time for the release of ‘The Ice King’ into the festival market. The “king” in question is British-born John Curry. Growing up to become world champion and an Olympic Gold medallist, his achievements within and for the sport far outweigh those that can be worn around the neck.

Born in 1949, young John’s dreams of becoming a world-class ballet dancer were quashed when his oppressive and “of the time” father forbade it, yet agreed to John pursuing skating as it was deemed a sport. John’s natural gifts as a dancer led to his grace and artistry on the ice being both embraced and rejected by insiders. He was labelled a rebel before the times finally caught up with him and was later to be recognised as a pioneer. Leaving the competitive world behind, John turned professional and created his own company, taking the world by storm and bringing the magic of artistic figure skating to the masses. But behind the scenes he suffered a tormented and lonely life that ended far too soon.


John Curry was a remarkable person. Growing up a gay man in a world that rejected the idea, he still braved the streets, never concealing his identity but never advertising it either. He definitely broke the mould, especially for a such a public and admired figure. Is this expanded upon and explored during the documentary ‘The Ice King’? No, is it not. With great access to archival footage, interviews, recounts from friends, family, colleagues and associates as well as his entire story tied together in John’s own words through deeply personal letters, the entire film still plays out in dot points. John was told to skate like a man. Next. John suffers extreme depression and loneliness. Next. John becomes world champion. Next. John wins a gold medal. Next. John engages in a volatile BDSM relationship that left friends and family worried. Next. John experiences financial troubles that jeopardises the entire company. Next. John contracts HIV/AIDS. Next. So on and so forth. I was yearning to know so much more about this exceptional man, and yet a was left with simply a list - a detailed list, but still a list of his 44 years on this earth.

I was yearning to know so much more about this exceptional man, and yet a was left with simply a list.

Filmmaker James Erskine (2013 documentary ‘The Battle of the Sexes’) has told of a life here but has left out the story. We’re given the who and the what but rarely the why. ‘The Ice King’ is a great starting off point to learn more about John Curry, but it’s sadly not the be-all and end-all biography of this tragic yet beautiful life.

Looking for more Sydney Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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