It is a testament to Margot Robbie’s impressive acting talent that from the moment you set eyes on her in I, Tonya, that you instantly know that you are in a pair safe hands. Directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, United States of Tara) the film recounts the extraordinary story of how one of the most talented American figure skaters of all time suddenly found herself at the centre of one the biggest scandals to ever hit the sport.
In January 1994 Tonya Harding, who had until then been mostly known for her less than orthodox antics on and off the ice rink, became a figure of hate around the world after the attack on her skating rival Nancy Kerrigan, which was later found to have been hatched up by her then husband Jeff Gillooly. Harding went on to compete in the winter Olympics that same year, but was later struck from the sport indefinitely after being found to have colluded with Jeff, something which she still denies to this day.
Centring the story around Harding (Robbie) and telling the story from her own perspective in a series of mock interviews and episodic accounts, there is no doubt that the film is more than just a little sympathetic towards her. Having been brought up by a cruel and eternally critical mother, played brilliantly by Allison Janney, Tonya learnt to fight her own battles against her redneck upbringing and stood up to the stuffy figure skating establishment which simply refused to see the potential in her.
Helped by a brilliantly sardonic dialogue and an impressively tight screenplay courtesy of Steven Rogers, director Craig Gillespie uses a huge deal of humour to deal with a subject most would have bulked at taking on in such a way. His ability to highlight some of the most harrowing beatings administered to Harding by her then husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) without ever falling into the predictably gratuitous, goes a long to show just how brilliantly self-aware he is.
Robbie is magnificent as Harding, her ability to inhabit her character’s mannerisms and accent with such ease goes to show that she is capable of much more than we have seen from her so far. While Janney more or less steals every single scene she’s in with her brilliantly taciturn performance as Harding’s cruel and duplicitous mother.
On the whole I, Tonya more than delivers on its brilliant premise by allowing the film to exist in a sort of heightened version of reality in which humour takes centre stage. A genuinely engaging and fantastically acted production, which deserves all the accolades which are likely to be bestowed upon it, A must see.