For many, the story of John Curry will be an unfamiliar one, but James Erskine, the director behind 2013’s Battle of the Sexes, intimate documentary, The Ice King, about the “best ice skater in the world,” is a graceful success.
John Curry’s story begins like many, in his childhood, when his aspirations of becoming a ballet dancer were hobbled by his strict, working class father who refused the boy his dream to dance on the grounds that it was “unmanly.”
Skating, however, due to its athleticism was deemed okay and Curry took to the sport immediately. Understanding it as dancing on ice, Curry would spend his lifetime blending the artistry and grace of dance into ice skating, revolutionizing it as a sport and introducing it into the world of performance theatre.
Told through the use of archival footage, readings from personal letters and intimate interviews with former lover, Heinz Wirz, friends and Curry’s former trainer’s wife, Christa Fassi, the documentary charts the successes, failures, passion and struggle of the skater both on and off the ice.
An Olympic gold medallist at the age of 26, Curry was outed as a homosexual at a time when homosexuality was still on the fringes of legality and Erskine’s documentary explores, by proxy, the political backdrop of attitudes towards sexuality and the steady rise and impact of the 80s’ Aids epidemic.
The drive and determination that saw Curry, after retiring from competitive ice skating, take his dance-skating company on tours that saw them play in both the Royal Albert Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House is laden by the deep sadness of a man striving for an unattainable sense of self-accomplishment. But, the artistry and versatility he brought to the ice skating world, bringing together the best music, choreography and dance has forever changed its landscape.
Curry died of Aids at the age of 44 at his mother’s Warwickshire home, but through this documentary Erskine helps to immortalize a truly inspiring man.