#185: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

No distance left to run.

Celebrating it’s fifty year anniversary, Tony Richardson’s allegorical, “angry young man” drama is a stimulating breath of fresh air amongst all this stifling Olympics commotion.

Based on his short story, Alan Sillietoe’s naturalistic script is paired perfectly with Tony Richardson’s kitchen sink filmmaking. After being caught red bread handed stealing from a bakery, lanky-framed Nottinghamshire hoodlum Colin Smith is thrown into a correctional institute. The borstal’s governor believes in the rehabilitative, healing powers of sports, plus there ability to suppress the underclass. He is therefore glad to realize that Colin is a gifted endurance runner. Encouraging him to train rigorously for an upcoming tournament with a local grammar school, the governor promises Colin special privileges if they win. But at what cost is it worth being in with the ‘in-crowd’, and when should one stick to their blue collar roots? He is strangely without resolution, ambition or even hope. A social rebel simultaneously with and without a cause.

Similarly to Burgess’ infamous protagonist Alex from A Clockwork Orange (also released in 1962), Colin Smith is an inevitable product of the disenfranchised and pernicious stuck-society, rather than being the cause of it. In his first ever film role, Tom Courtenay plays the protagonist with extraordinary sharpness and physicality, yet still able to evoke sympathy. On the flip side, theatre stalwart Michael Redgrave is fabulously cold and calculative as the borstal head-honcho.

While this show of compassion may not sit comfortably with those who distrust social agitation, it must be said that a splendid presentation is made by Richardson. Rising from the ashes of the new British documentary school, there’s a vein of veridicality and committed cinematic flow in his filmmaking, with Colin’s training being punctuated with expositional flashbacks depicting his difficult back story. Even if this character’s journey may seem old-fashioned by today’s cosmopolitan, slightly more duplicitous societal standards,  the film’s theme of subordination is still dramatically exciting.

With the Olympics representing idealised solidarity and unison in the world’s nation states, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner antithetically suggests that the hardest sport of all is social mobility. Put down the javelin and pay attention.

IMDb it.

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