She was at one time one of the best figure skaters in the world. But Tonya Harding was not your typical figure skater. She came from the wrong side of the tracks, a girl many would consider white trash or a redneck. She could fire a gun, drive a truck and take a punch with the best of them. Harding’s story has come to the screen via something of a docudrama called, simply I, Tonya. The Australian actress Margot stars in the title role.
Harding made history in the figure skating world for one extremely challenging accomplishment that preceded her involvement in a controversy that left her banned from figure skating for life and made her infamous for her role in a conspiracy that followed a criminal event in which she claims to have had no part.
The one-time U.S. Figure Skating champion reached the height of the skating world at the U.S. Championships in 1991 when, at the age of 20, she completed the extremely difficult jump known as the triple axel. Harding was the first American woman to achieve this daunting athletic maneuver. and she performed it not once but twice, in a single competition, also a record for women’s skating.
The bulk of the movie surrounds the events leading up to the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehamer, Norway, where Harding and her longtime rival Nancy Kerrigan were expected to go head-to-head in pursuing a place on the podium as an Olympic Medalist. But an incident occurred during the U.S. Figure Skating Champtionships (the Olympic qualifying event) that left Kerrigan unable to compete. Kerrigan was granted a special waiver that allowed her to make the Olympic team, and she began a course of intensive rehabilitation to get her physical ability such that she could enter the competition at the Olympics.
The vicious assault on Kerrigan — the actual moment when the attack takes place — is a small part of the movie’s plot. What leads up to the violence is far more significant. Think the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, and a cast of characters right out of a serious collision of reality and delusion. A plan to send Kerrigan a threatening letter was hatched to rattle the woman expected by many to have a clear path to a bronze, silver or, perhaps, even a gold medal. But the initial plan went awry. After a practice session as Kerrigan exited the ice, she was attacked by an assailant wielding a police-grade baton. As a result, Kerrigan sustained a serious injury to her leg just above the knee.
The film, overall, depicts the sorry state of Harding’s upbringing in a way that borders on the harshest scope of black comedy as it leads to a riveting conclusion. Variety says of Robbie that “she nails Tonya’s skittery insecurity, and the freedom she feels on the ice. Robbie did portions of her own skating, and the scenes are thrillingly staged and shot.”
I, Tonya is directed by Craig Gillespie from a screenplay by Steven Rogers. Joining Robbie in the cast are Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nichols, Bobby Cannavale and Paul Walter Hauser.
The film picked up a rating of 89 on RottenTomatoes. I, Tonya runs 2 hours and is rated R.
Footage of Tonya Harding’s historic triple axel.
I, Tonya trailer
I, Tonya cast and director at the Toronto International Film Festival