The true story behind I, Tonya: a tale of class struggle so horrific it couldn’t be dreamt up by the top movie execs

The true story behind I, Tonya: a dreadful tale of working class frustration
Margot looked seriously excited to walk the red carpet with Tonya Picture: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Have you heard about I, Tonya?

It’s the powerhouse indie movie instigating flurries of conversation this awards season. At the Oscars, lead star Margot Robbie is nominated for Best Actress, with Alison Janney up for Best Supporting. So what’s all the fuss?

Simply put, the film is based on a true story so horrific it couldn’t have been dreamed up by even the top movie execs.

In 1994, there was a scandal at the US Figure Skating Championships. Infamous professional skater Tonya Harding became embroiled within a plot to derail her competitor, Nancy Kerrigan from competing. Kerrigan was assaulted with a police baton; left bruised, she was unable to compete.

The true story behind I, Tonya: a dreadful tale of working class frustration
Margot Robbie stars in I, Tonya (Picture: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock)

Although Tonya wasn’t directly involved in the attack, she later pleaded guilty to conspiring to hinder the prosecution of the attackers.

Tonya was banned for life from the US Figure Skating Association, and sentenced to three years of probation. The actual attacker, Shane Stant, spent time in prison for the attack along with organisers who included Tonya’s former husband Jeff Gillooly, and her body guard, Shawn Eckhardt.

Tonya went on to win the event, however, both Tonya and Nancy Kerrigan were selected for the Winter Olympics later that year. With Kerrigan’s injury overcome, she won at the Olympics, while Tonya’s career was over for good.

The story is so gravely unpleasant, even its lead star, Hollywood actress Margot Robbie, couldn’t believe the script was true when she first read it, reported Variety. It has that distinct lick of inhuman terror about it – how could anyone do such a thing?

The true story behind I, Tonya: a dreadful tale of working class frustration
Margot Robbie, celebrating as Tonya (Picture: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock)

But the feeling is that, with a story this darkly true, the weight of the drama is in the film’s fine performances. I, Tonya premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, to a flurry of praise.

The point of this film is to examine the very real class-rooted struggles, and the anger and frustration felt by Tonya and her team at the time. It examines the culture of greed and nepotism that circulated in the figure skating world that meant success harder for Tonya than it was for her more glamorous competitors. Prizes and awards seemed further away.

More: Margot Robbie

Margot Robbie plays eponymous, disgraced Tonya Harding, although her rival, Nancy, is only seen from afar, like a target.

The true story behind I, Tonya: a dreadful tale of working class frustration
Allison Janney portrays LaVona Golden in I, Tonya. (Picture: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Sebastian Stan plays Tonya’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, Ricky Russert the attacker Shane and Paul Walter Hauser is bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt.

Alison Janney is Oscar nominated as the film’s key prop, LaVonda Golden, Tonya’s drunk, aggressive mother who informs most of Tonya’s frustration.

A debate still rages as to whether Tonya Harding is a good, or a bad, woman. She is currently being praised by Hollywood for her struggle through the working class limitations that beset her, although others believe very hard proof still shows that Tonya had bad intentions for Nancy Kerrigan.

Tonya’s working class background felt at odds with the American Dream. Not everyone seemed to have a fair chance in the snobby world of figure skating, and the violence instigated by her team has become emblematic of that working class frustration.

MORE: Margot Robbie explains why she produced I, Tonya: ‘I wasn’t waiting 10 years to be offered a role like this’

MORE: Oscar nominations 2018 – full list includes Get Out, The Shape Of Water, Dunkirk and Darkest Hour

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