Forget everything you know about figure skating. Banish the stereotype of refined ladies gliding swan-like in satin and sequins. And brace yourself instead for I, Tonya: the jet-black mockumentary dubbed by critics as “the Goodfellas of skating”, in cinemas February 23rd.
With an unrecognisable Margot Robbie in the lead role as disgraced US ice queen Tonya Harding – and a plot examining her part in the sport’s murkiest scandal – here’s why Craig Gillespie’s Oscar-nominated new movie will make you laugh, cry and cringe…
1. It’s a true and incredible story
The tale of Tonya Harding is such dynamite stuff, it’s insane that no filmmaker has touched it.
Training from the age of three under the scrutiny of her abusive mother, she overcame the prim skating world’s disapproval – the LA Times once called her a “surly ice witch” – to become the first American woman to perform the near-mythical triple axel jump.
But before the 1994 Olympics, associates of Harding’s husband attacked her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, almost breaking her leg with a baton – and for hindering the case, the skater herself was banned and dogged by a hate campaign...
2. It's got Oscar winner written all over it
The early response to I, Tonya has been approval across the board.
From its rave reception at the Toronto International Film Festival, the buzz has steadily built, with Margot Robbie gaining a nomination after another as Best Leading Actress, from the BAFTA to the Oscar and Allison Janney - who plays Tonya's mum - scoring a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and the Oscar nomination.
And as for Harding herself? “She said she laughed and she cried [...]” screenwriter Steven Rogers told Deadline of the skater’s response to the movie, “and she’s emailed me twice just to thank me, so I think she’s happy.”
3. It’s got characters you’ll love to hate…
You’ll struggle to find a more hissable character than LaVona Fay Golden (Allison Janney): an acid-blooded mom-from-hell with a dangling cigarette, a parrot on one shoulder and a nasty habit of throwing steak knives. Sebastian Stan is almost as villainous as Harding’s heavy-handed lover, Jeff Gillooly.
But it’s Robbie who is the revelation, having dived into her role as the dishevelled, chain-smoking, foul-mouthed hate figure: “I watched [Harding] for about six months,” she reveals, “every bit of skating, every bit of interview, every documentary. I had her face painted on the inside of my eyelids and her voice just constantly in my head.”
4. It’s part comedy, part tragedy, part documentary...
Director Craig Gillespie doesn’t flinch from the domestic abuse of Harding’s story – nor the bone-crunching attack on Kerrigan – but with the characters constantly breaking the fourth wall with their wry comments to the audience, you’d have to categorise I, Tonya as a jet-black comedy.
While walking that slippery tightrope, the director also shows his skill with a fluid storyline that takes in every character’s version of events, based on hours of interviews that screenwriter Steven Rogers did with Harding and Gillooly, so the audience have to concentrate to work our what version to believe...
5. The skating sequences are jaw-dropping
The stunning cinematography does justice to Harding’s world-skating talent, with every slice and skim of blades brought thrillingly to the big screen.
To get it right, Margot Robbie trained intensively for four months – despite suffering from a herniated disc in her neck – and the authenticity even extends to the soundtrack, with songs like Z.Z. Top’s Sleeping Bag taken from Harding’s own real-life routines. All edited perfectly in an exciting and really engaging way - and it's not a case that the film also got an Oscar nomination for Best Editing.