The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner | 1962 | Michael Redgrave Tom Courtenay

Teen Colin Smith (a 25-year-old Tom Courtenay) is sent to reform school Ruxton Towers for stealing (from a bakery of all places). Despite being sullen and disinterested, he catches the eye of the Governor (Michael Redgrave) because of his running abilities and is trained up to be the school athletics star (cue several scenes of Courtenay, clad in nothing but skimpy shorts and plimsolls, despite the obvious winter chill, dashing, free, across rural England).

The Governor, an ardent representative of the establishment (he aspires to mould the boys into "industrious and honest citizens"), sees in Smith a chance for the borstal to shine. However, in a cross-country run against a public school, Smith deliberately throws the race to show the governor what he thinks of him and the system he represents.

Alan Sillitoe’s short story is a tough, concise study of the mind of a rebel, using the metaphor of sports. Tony Richardson’s busy direction, utilising the tools of the British Free Cinema documentary movement and scavenging from the French Nouvelle Vague, possibly tries to hit too many targets at once (the film is structured to flash between Smith’s life in the borstal and that before, when his factory worker father dies of cancer). But, Courtenay, in his film debut, makes Smith a fully rounded character and angry young man who still resonates as part of the post-war British cinema of the working-class anti-hero.

Michael Redgrave as Ruxton Towers Reformatory Governor
Tom Courtenay as Colin Smith
Avis Bunnage as Mrs. Smith
Alec McCowen as Brown, House Master
James Bolam as Mike
Joe Robinson as Roach
Dervis Ward as Detective
Topsy Jane as Audrey
Julia Foster as Gladys
Philip Martin as Stacy (uncredited)
James Fox as Willy Gunthorpe – Ranley School Runner
John Thaw as Bosworth
Arthur Mullard as Chief Borstal Officer
Ray Austin as Craig
John Brooking as Green
Raymond Dyer as Gordon
Anthony Sagar as Fenton
Peter Kriss as Scott
Peter Madden as Mr Smith
Dallas Cavell as Lord Jaspers
James Cairncross as Mr Jones
Frank Finlay as Booking Office Clerk
Derek Fowlds as Borstal Inmate
Robert Percival as Tory Politician

Director: Tony Richardson
Script: Alan Sillitoe

UK | 104 minutes | 1962


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