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UK 1962
Directed by
Tony Richardson
103 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner

Although at 25, too old to play a teenager (as indeed are the entire cast of "boys") Tom Courtenay gives a fine and career-making performance that captures well the hostile disaffection of post-adolescence as we now know it. 

The setting is the Northern  England industrial town of Nottingham in the grip of post-war grimness where Colin lives in a crummy tenement house with his shrewish mother (Avis Bunnage), dying factory worker father (Peter Madden) and siblings. Unemployed, Colin and his best friend Mike (James Bolam) rely on petty theft for spending money.  Eventually Colin gets caught and is sent to Borstal where the governor (Michael Redgrave) a believer in the salutary effects of sports, identifies him as the boy who will win the cup for long distance running in a competition to be held with a neighbouring posh private boys school (providing  debut big screen appearances for James and Edward Fox).

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner represents a transition from  the “angry young man” issue-based concerns of Richardson’s own “kitchen sink” classic, Look Back in Anger (1959) to the more carefree spirit of Richard Lester’s Hard Day’s Night (1964) even including such decidedly non-realist techniques as sped-up film to represent youthful waggishness.  The strength of the film which alternates between Colin's Borstal experiences and the chain of events that put him there, is in its empathetic portrayal of youthful rebelliousness.  Indeed Colin’s crimes are regarded with indulgence and the film’s criticisms are all addressed to the hidebound Establishment, its enforcers and toadies who would perpetuate a culture of self-imposed repression.  In this respect Colin is a kind of modestly English Cool Hand Luke. 

FYI: For a less benign view of Borstal see Alan Clarke’s Scum (1979)

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