Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The

The thud of running footsteps opens Tony Richardson’s New Wave classic, which stars Tom Courtenay in his debut film role. He plays Colin Smith, a rebellious working-class lad who is sent to Borstal for committing a petty theft. Sullen and antisocial, Colin finds freedom in the solitude of cross-country running. His sporting prowess catches the eye of the smug governor (Michael Redgrave), a great believer in the rehabilitative powers of sports, who has Colin coached to compete in a race against a local public school. But as the governor wishes for sporting glory, Colin dreams of revenge on the system that oppresses him.
Like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, this is another adaptation of an Alan Sillitoe story, and once again the young protagonist announces in an introductory voiceover that he is in rebellion against conformism and the middle-class status quo. Both films contain revelatory performances, and both are set in England’s bleak industrial north. But partly due to the style of their directors, these are very different films.
In contrast to the classic style of Reisz, Richardson shows the influence of the French New Wave directors by adapting a deliberately fragmented visual style. Also, as the critic Gavin Lambert has noted, ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, like all of Richardson’s best movies, is edgy and vivid. It is full of poetic momentsÑespecially the location scenes showing Colin’s practice runs through a wintry forestÑand of powerfully ironic ones, such as the cutting between the Borstal boys obliged to sing Jerusalem at a school concert and an escaped boy being caught and brutalised by police.’
(1962. Black and white. Anamorphic. 104 mins.)

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