The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) Poster

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8/10
Between the 50s and 60s...
Quag71 March 2002
I caught this film late at night on cable, and it is the first movie I've seen with Tom Courtenay in it, who is excellent (Either by coincidence or design, King Rat was on only a few nights later).

I'd never heard of this film before, but I was immediately transfixed by its look; something here is remarkable about the way black and white is used to further the overall feel and design of the film.

Having never been to the UK, I don't have a really good sense of how time passes there; to an American, England appears to age barely at all as seen through the cinema. But the themes here and the use of silence and the overall look of the film convey a society in the midst of change; as much as there is here that reminds one of the 1950s, there is an overwhelming 60s theme here about conformity and authority and society which is inescapable. I found myself cheering a bit at the end in the same way I cheered for Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke; here, as in that film, is the story of an individual who refused to be "broken."

I'd definitely rate this film as a key 1960s film, black and white, and yet thoroughly modern and not at all dated. A lot of care was put into this film from the performances to the camerawork, and while it is not something that would keep you on the edge of your seat, it is certainly a compelling story, compellingly told.
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A compelling attack on "the system"
Steven Mears27 June 2001
A powerful and absorbing commentary on the plight of poor adolescents in working-class British society. The story is told through flashbacks, as a reform school delinquent recalls his troubled home life and the events that drove him to become what he is.

Colin (Tom Courtenay), the rebellious young man, embodies the depths to which one can sink as a result of poverty. When his father dies, he is forced to become the figure of stability in the lives of his abrasive mother and all his siblings. The incessant desire for money, instilled in him by his mother, drives him to rob a bakery. This lands him in reform school, where his aptitude as a long distance runner catches the eye of the school's progressive governor (Michael Redgrave). The governor has resolved that his students must defeat the local public school in a race, and puts Colin in training to represent them.

Running provides Colin with an opportunity to escape his problems, vent his aggressions, and consider his prospects. The governor takes a liking in him and begins giving him special privileges. He is forced to decide if he should continue with his defiant behavior, or instead play by the rules.

Redgrave wisely plays the governor not as a stereotypical prison warden, but as a fair and rational man driven to win. Courtenay's performance is nothing short of brilliant. He captures all the agony of an individual forced to mature before his time, molded by a society which has no use for his kind. Do any of the inmates in the school really reform, or do they all just `play the game' until they are released? This is among the many pertinent questions raised by this key film of its time.
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9/10
Superb 60's drama. Every scene is Courtney's
Andy Howlett22 September 2006
"Where the bloody hell have *you* been?" I'm sure this phrase appears in every black & white British 'kitchen sink' film of the time, usually asked by the exhausted mother or father of their wayward son. Colin Smith is a lad who is on the verge of becoming uncontrollable. Low-level crime and an aversion to authority make him every mother's nightmare. When his father dies and his mother takes up with a slimy fancy-man, Colin gets even worse and rebels. When he is convicted of burglary he is sent to Borstal and expected to bow down to the harsh routine, but his talent for running is spotted by the governor and he is encouraged to train for the inter-school Cup against the local 'posh' school. Will Colin do his duty? The film takes the unusual (for its time) structure of long flashbacks to Colin's home life while he is training. This is very effective and puts life into what could have been a rather dull film. There is one joyous scene in which Colin is first allowed out of the borstal gates to train - the sun is shining, we can almost smell the cool, fresh air and the soundtrack bursts into some glorious jazz trumpet. It's such an uplifting tune and so typical of its period that this film would be worth the price of the DVD just for this moment. Despite the depressing theme and grimy visuals, this film - made at the height of the 'gritty British drama' period of the 60's - is a delight.
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9/10
Looking on with a lot of anger.
whisperingtree9 July 2000
The rise of the 'angry young man' in British cinema took an interesting twist in this gritty drama. Set initially in Nottingham, Smith and his mate played by a very young James Bolam are nicked for petty theft. Sent to a borstal his athletic prowess is seized on by the Head to be mobilised in the name of the institution. Michael Redgrave's superb creation combines the stiff Britishness with a surpressed and unfulfillable desire to reform and change. This opposition creates a man at odds with his position. On the one hands he trusts and on the other he is petty and weak. Courtney's runner defines the struggle of the period between the decaying class system and the consumer led rise of the working class. His desire to run his own race, to lose because he won't win to justify Redgrave's ideology portrays that essentially English state of mind that it is better to fail than to succeed as long as you have chosen to fail. A wonderful film.
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A magnificent unappreciated film
carloi-19 August 2002
I recently watched this movie again on TV. The wonderful performances by Tom

Courtenay and Michael Redgrave have not diminished with time. The movie is

also full of technical innovations at the time. One of these is common today, a fast switching between the two time frames of the story. The life of the hero in a quasi-prison and the family life that led to his capture and conviction. The movie also predates the current of "Angry Young Men" that was to be so prolific in

British Cinema. Others have remarked on the wondrous scenes of Courtenay

running in open countryside as he trains for a long distance competition. The accompaniment of a jazz trumpet also fit well. But to me the core of the movie is the rage of the hero towards the "establishment" beautifully symbolized by

Michael Redgrave's Headmaster. Don't miss this movie if you have a chance.
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8/10
The Loveliness of the Black & White Cinema
givnaw2 October 2002
Rambling thoughts: A very good movie, really capturing the sense of futility of lower class British existence. The desolate beauty of gray, cold and damp England comes through in wonderful ranges of color; despite being a black and white film, there is a huge variety of tone in the photography. You can almost smell the wet leaves of the forests and hills, and feel the cold of the morning air as you follow the runners on their daily jogs. England's rich heritage of distance running makes it an apt subject. Distance running, which I do enjoy myself, is primarily a solitary activity, designed for bona-fide introverts, "angry young men", obsessive individuals who do not mind pain, and in some cases, may actually enjoy it. England, with its crummy weather, economy, history and hugely varied terrain, is particularly well-suited to the sport. Courtenay is a treasure; we are so fortunate to still have him around. It is a wonder to gaze upon his youthful gauntness, and then to see how his appearance has evolved over the years. Really sharp viewers will be able to spot a very young Inspector Morse, John Thaw, as one of the young inmates.
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10/10
Absolutely fantastic!
miriamkgross912 June 2005
This film... is amazing. This is the only way that I can POSSIBLY describe the brilliant acting performance of Tom Courtenay, one of my all-time favorite actors. His depiction of Colin, a young man from the lower class society of Nottingham, is remarkable. In fact, depiction is quite the wrong word for what he does with that character. Courtenay does not play Colin, he IS Colin, pure and simple. I will not give a summary simply because it is impossible to explain the story line without seeing the film. I have tried to explain the story line to my friends, and they just can't understand why I'm raving about. Anyone who is reading this, WATCH THIS MOVIE! It is one of the best films the '60s has to offer.
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10/10
British cinema at it's best
the_monk14 June 2001
Ahh Mother,why oh why oh why oh why, don't they make them like they used to? Forget your Guy Richie crime capers,'Loneliness of the long distance runner' is British cinema at its best. I can't explain why I love this film (erm so why I am I here?), whenever I try to explain the plot to friends they look perplexed as to why the film should be so good. Tom Courtenay is in his element in his portrayal as the 'loveable rogue'. Has 'Jerusalem' ever been more poignantly sung as it has here? Im not urging you to go out and purchase the film, but if you have a spare 90 odd minutes and it comes on television then watch it. Ta.
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9/10
Black & White rules!
gingergurl756 October 2006
I saw the last few minutes of this flick on Tyne Tees telly a couple of years after its theater rounds. In that part of England in those days there was only subsequent run at the Odeon, ABC and Majestic and I never got the chance to see it on a big screen. I can always hope.

I also remember the lurid cover on the paperback as it sat on the rack at Boots alongside Brendan Behan's "Borstal Boy." I had to settle for Mickey Spillane or Ian Fleming instead.

The film is far more gritty than Billy Liar, but Courtenay is identical in both roles in that he has to triumph over adversity in both films. In this role he rejects the life of his father which was subservience to the mill in favor of living large, but not very. In short he aspired to be a spiv just to blend in. But he needs to impress a couple of birds too, and that takes money -- and love of money is the root of all evil.

Then he gets a mini-vacation in a castle stolen by Oliver Cromwell and eventually converted to a government-owned barracks to meet the conveniences of World War II. I have never seen the concrete post with barbed wire any other place than England. In this boot camp styled borstal he has to confront his demons and decide just exactly who he wants to be. The Head has an ax to grind with the local school and naively hopes that sports is the way to channel these boys' anger. Should that fail, there are posters plastering the walls touting a man's life in the army. And that's why this film doesn't waste a scene.

Americans watching this film might have some trouble with an almost extinct dialect, but human nature does not change.

Favorite scenes 1) when he burns the pound note and 2) the romp on the dunes at Skegness.
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A great, great movie
carloi-127 May 2002
This is one of my very favorite pictures of all time. Courtenay was practically unknown at the time, but turns in a performance worthy of a Gielgud or an Olivier. I don't think anyone else could have conveyed the sense of alienation which is so typical of male youth at some point in their lives. The whole dramatic high point of the film is the contrast between an upper class school and the school to which Courtenay is relegated, just a shade above a reformatory, The concluding scenes, that could have been milked for bathos or easy tears, are stunning in dramatic effect and made totally believable by both Courtenay and Richardson. I'm not quite sure as how much the film will appeal to a female audience, but if you are male and remember what it was like to be in your teens and feeling that the world did not understand you, then don't miss this.
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Not as relevant as it was but still interesting, well acted and has memorable moments
bob the moo3 January 2005
After getting caught robbing a bakery, Colin Smith is sent to Ruxton Towers reformatory as punishment. Working out the system quite quickly, Colin sets out to divert attention from himself, ingratiate himself with the Governor and thus have a better chance of getting an easy ride and being let out early. His background in distance running (and speed at running from the scene of his crimes) bring him to the fore in the athletics competitions and it is not long before Colin is allowed out alone to train. During his long runs Colin has time to think back over his life outside, the fun, the family upbringing and the crimes that landed him inside.

Although it has dated and is not as relevant anymore, this is still an interesting film that looks at the trap of being born into a working class family with limited opportunities and a bleak future ahead of you. The film uses flashbacks well to judge the system without being too obvious – the family background, the small hopes and dreams, the lack of inspiration etc; they all lead Colin into a petty life of crime. The structure works well to keep both threads (in and out) moving ahead well and it is interesting enough. The film also (in my opinion) is pretty fair by showing how those at the bottom of the ladder also must blame themselves for failing to take the chances offered to them – as shown by Colin's possible athletics career. This is a fair comment and helps to prevent this becoming just a rant in defence of the downtrodden classes.

Watching it today sees it lose a lot of its relevance because the class distinction is less evident now that it was then and Colin would be a lot less likable if we were a modern day Chav with a "f*** you" attitude and no education – at least here we are able to feel for him a bit. As it is Courtenay (now Sir Courtenay) plays it very well – Colin is a human, someone we like but also someone trapped in a situation that is partly his own making. Redgrave plays the upperclass Governor very well and we at once are for him and against him, feeling sorry for his failing attempts to help. Support is pretty realistic (well – I assume anyway) for the period and Bolam is a surprise find in a young role.

Overall this is still a good film but, as with anything set in a very realistic setting, it is not as relevant today as it was then. It is still interesting though and has things to say that still generally apply today even if class is less of an issue (now money has less to do with class than it did then). The acting is good, the direction is very down to earth and realistic and the film is still well worth seeing (with that very memorable conclusion to the race being a very memorable moment).
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How Lonely Are the Blessed Nay-Sayers!
Tim O'Grady13 February 2000
How miraculous it is that Tom Courtenay aged so little in the twenty years or so since this early role and that of the `The Dresser.' And how refreshing it is to see `Runner' again, surely one of the classics of the Angry Young Man school--a kind of Brit Noir of the early 1960s which includes some other memorable masterpieces: `Look Back in Anger,' `This Sporting Life,' and `Saturday Night and Sunday Morning'--though all of that seemed to end when director Tony Richardson switched to color and costumed Albert Finney as the irrepressible Tom Jones. Nonetheless, the influence of the Angry Young Men persisted in Richard Lester's vehicles for the Beatles, can also be discerned in the Kubrick of "A Clockwork Orange, and is faintly echoed today in the work of Mike Leigh and others.

On this viewing, I was more impressed than ever--as anyone with a blue-collar background would be--at the sheer hatred for the Establishment felt by English youth of this time, and I was reminded again of how strong a theme this is in virtually every film of the genre. The old bowler-and-umbrella Imperial types are portrayed as stodgy fat cats trying either to frustrate or to exploit youthful exuberance, while the young themselves struggle to protect their integrity in but one bleak corner of a very unfair universe. It is as if James Dean were caught on the set of `Rebel Without a Cause' cradling a greasy newspaper wrapper and boorishly scarfing down an order of fish and chips. I doubt that he ever actually heard of fish and chips, but it is clear that the Brits had heard of him.

The main character of `Runner,' a boy in his late teens named Colin Smith, is sent to borstal for an impetuous act of petty robbery--a crime ostensibly as innocent, though not quite so lacking in motive, as the murder in Camus' "The Stranger." In the reformatory he is spotted by the pipe-smoking governor (Michael Redgrave) and is groomed as a contender for the champion's laurels in a much-anticipated long-distance race against a local public (i.e., private) school. In the end, Colin/Cortenay, far out ahead of the smug rich boy (James Fox in one of his first roles), simply coasts to a stop within view of the finish line, thus dashing the ambitions of the warden. This bold and apparently gratuitous gesture of refusal will ruin any chances Colin had for future favorable treatment by the authorities, and it essentially disqualifies him from any advancement within the system--including all the rewards commonly bestowed upon those who accept competition, progress, and material well-being as meaningful values worth obtaining through a seemly subservience. This film would speak volumes to any class of the oppressed.

And in view of its obvious distaste for those who so arrogantly dismiss the existentialists and their adherents, I think we can see it as a demonstration of Tony Richardson's intellectual sympathies with Sartre, Camus, and their brethren. We are left to ponder its haunting message that an apparently uncalled-for assertion of the will--even when it tragically threatens our survival, or works against us in all the banal ways which the greedy or merely practical-minded view as obvious routes to success--is to be applauded as an heroic achievement that reconfirms our sometimes questionable humanity.
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4/10
Suppose there was a class war and nobody turned up?
ianlouisiana8 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
It might seem strange to our American cousins,but the English working-class actually don't hate the so-called upper-classes.They are amused by them,slightly disdainful of them and have as little to do with them as possible.It's the middle-class public school/Oxbridge types(i.e. director Tony Richardson)who do their hating for them.Never forget that revolutions are not made by the people but for the people.This condescending attitude to the working class has blighted the British Cinema for seventy years and British TV for slightly less. All the cheery cockneys,tarts with hearts,warm and wise gritty northerners never had an existence outside of the imagination of an Oxbridge type riven with guilt at living in Chiswick . Alan Sillitoe's "hero"is a "The world owes me a living" Nottingham lad from a respectable(not,as many seem to believe,desperately poor)working-class home.He is a thief.He is not stealing to support his poor old mum,he's doing it because it's fun. He gets caught and sent to Borstal,where the Governor sees his potential as an athlete,allows him privileges not extended to his fellows,and eventually enters him in a race against "proper" schools which he promptly throws to demonstrate his "principles". Not exactly Brain of Britain then. More the sort of lad the screws say "see you soon" to when he leaves. Courtenay's gaunt physique and repressed energy scream resentment and hate that we are somehow supposed to admire and identify with. Richardson uses "New Wave " devices that were already becoming clichés by 1962 in a desperate attempt to distract us from the tiredness of the plot. By all means watch "The loneliness of the long-distance runner",but don't believe it reflected British life in 1962.It merely reflected what Tony Richardson would have you believe British life was like in 1962. Not quite the same thing. The best thing about the film is the dancing,glittering trumpet playing by Pat Halcox,and if you want to hear more of him listen to any Chris Barber record. A few years later Mr Richardson went on to make "The charge of the Light Brigade" which gave him another chance to rubbish the upper classes which he seized with alacrity. If you want to see an accurate portrayal of working-class life,10 minutes from any Terence Davies film will give you more truth than a lifetime's study of Tony Richardson's entire oeuvre.
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5/10
downhill marathon
T Y27 February 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I definitely appreciated this movie. I've been wanting to see it for decades, so I was grateful to see it on the DVD rack. But ultimately the quotidian aspects of life in a juvie-penal system and goofs around the house, and the style of film-making are more valuable than its big pronouncement/redemption, that horrible ending.

As it arrived, I was sitting there thinking "Oh please, not the usual dumb, simplistic ending..." but there it was, something out of an eighties teen movie. Tom sabotages his own marathon win as a finger-in-the-eye to both the wealthy and the coaches who are playing him. Gee... you really showed them. It's just exceptionally dumb, hollow and frustrating, even as a dramatic point. The character regards it as a triumph, but that's just a testimony to his mental stagnation; he's exactly where he was at the beginning. In the end all he values is destruction and passive aggression. I hope he enjoys them - it's all life is going to serve him.

He'll have plenty of time to relive this one trifling 'success' in his life, while he's stuck in impoverished Stinkburg for the rest of time. Hooray, you were really true to yourself. ...and now you can get back to beating your wife.
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Running to try and get lost
thecatcanwait16 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
What a great find off YouTube this was. Adapted by Alan Silitoe from a short story.

Colin Smith (Tom Courtney) has been sent to a Borstal. He's not feeling remorseful for the petty pinching "wrong" he did: "I got caught – I didn't run fast enough".

Turns out he's probably gonna be on the run, running away, all his life. But he seems to like running, is born to run – and he runs fast; "All i know is you've got to run, run without knowing why" We get flashbacks to his "previous" life, all run-of-the-mill working class delinquent stuff: pinching a car with mate Mike (James Bolam); picking up a couple of birds, going off on a joy ride. Dreams of going down to London. A quick snog with the birds. Return car. A couple of mischievous misfits – harmless really.

Back we go to the Remand Centre for naughty boys where Smith can turn himself into a good boy if he wins the Cup for The Governor; only he won't allow himself to be corrupted by a non-working class, institutionalised, poncey, version of being good: "I'm gonna let them think they've got me house-trained. But they never will – the bastards". Another version of Arthur Seaton's "Don't let the bastards grind you down" is Colin Smith.

Flashbacks to back story: Dad dies. With £500 cash pay-out mother is going on a shopping spree, buys a telly. Colin is not impressed. He burns the (blood) money she gives him. Those birds are picked up again, taken to Skeggy, snogged a bit, fallen in love with a bit. He's confessing to his bird Audrey (Topsy Jane) this sad realisation: "I run away to try and get lost. I was always trying to get lost when i was a kid.I soon found out that you can't get lost though".

And then he's done a burglary with Mike and unwisely stuffed the cash up a drainpipe: "Whats the first thing you'd do if you won £75,000 quid? asks Mike" "Count it" comes the droll reply. Yeah, count it, make sure you know how much you've got even if you've got no idea what you'd do with how much you've got. Mike asks, "What do you want to do Col?" "I don't know. Live i suppose. See what happens" says Colin. Hasn't got a clue what to do with his hopeless life has Colin Smith. Except keep running fast, running off, running away.

And running free. Which the Governor has allowed Colin to do: run unsupervised outside the perimeter fence. Trusts him. Cus he's "the Governors blue-eyed boy now" isn't he? No he's not. He's not been "had". He's gonna want to lose that race surely. I was ambivalent watching him run it (which i suppose is what i was meant to be feeling) I wanted him to lose the Cup (for The Governor). But i didn't want him to lose the race (for himself) And in the end he didn't lose. Or did he? Well, he hadn't lost his self-respect.

And he'd won.

At being a loser.

Which is frequently where you can find all your slowed down "thievin little bastards" like Colin Smith.
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A classic rebel
Tequila-1828 September 1999
This is one of the stand out films of the British "angry young man" genre. The theme of not being squashed by the system is timeless. Courtenay and Redgrave are outstanding. The only way to escape from his dreary environment is by running. He must run on his own terms, not just to advance the ambitions of the warden. The climax is a classic.
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8/10
Excellent cinematography and great performances.
Andy-14025 November 1998
This film was seen to be the last of Woodfall's 'kitchen sink' dramas. There are great performances by Tom Courtenay and James Bolam as the two borstal boys. Colin (Courtenay) is very much a nihilist rejecting everything around him, like Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

The story of Colin's refusal to fit into the pattern of 'model prisoner' or 'consumer' is well conveyed by Richardson and the scenes which follow Colin's runs through the woods are beautifully shot. Overall the film was slightly jumbled and represented class through the use of stereotypes i.e. the 'progressive' prison governor and the patronising employer. A good film nonetheless.
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A British also-ran (spoilers throughout)
Ricky Roma15 June 2005
All the good performances and technical flourishes can't hide the fact that Colin Smith is a bit of an idiot. Sure he has a right to be angry, living as he does in a less than loving family and as he faces a life with limited opportunities, but rather than struggle to make something of himself he seems content to be a loser. He truly is the rebel without a clue.

The thing that gets on my nerves most about 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner' is the way that it revels in every-day criminality. Just take the bakery robbery. I can appreciate the desperation that leads people to commit such acts, and I can certainly sympathise with it, but when it's just a bit of a lark – as the speeded up film suggests – I can't help but be glad when they get caught. Colin Smith got what he deserved.

Now perhaps I take things too seriously, but I really do find it hard to give much of a damn about a character that is quite rightly locked away and one who squanders the opportunities that are given to him. After all, the warder gives him a chance to make something of himself. He has a chance to find a direction. But instead he gives everyone a big 'up yours'.

I must say though that if the system was incredibly oppressive it would be a great ending, but instead it has me shrugging my shoulders. Sure the warder is using him for his own ends and sure life in borstal is far from fun, but he's a thief and a criminal after all and the regime as portrayed in the film is nowhere near as bad as it could be – it's a million miles away from the infinitely superior 'Scum'. Instead all it comes down to is petty working class pride. After all, his best friend is appalled at how favoured he's become and isn't shy about voicing his disgust. But rather than rebel against the people that are truly keeping him down – his friends who reinforce his low expectations – he rebels against the one man that might help him become something. Yet because it's a working class lad against an upper class man we're supposed to cheer. Well, perhaps forty years ago I may have done that very thing, but now I can't help but look at Colin Smith and see him as an idiot. He's a man who squanders his chances. He's a man who'll never amount to anything. He's a loser.
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9/10
The long and winding road to self-respect
sol121813 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
**SPOILERS** One of the best and most thought-provoking films to come out of England during its "New Age" cinema revolution back in the late 1950's and early 1960's "the Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" never really got the recognition, from both moviegoers and film critics, that it so rightfully deserved at the time of its release back in 1962.

18 year-old Colin Smith,Tom Courtenay,never had the opportunities that most young men his age had in both education and social relationships. Gowing up in the poverty stricken section of Nottingham England Colin, a high school drop out, was now forced to became the Smith family bread winner. That's when Colin's father who despite having available to him the best of health care, due to the British free and government sponsored health system, opted to die at home without being cared and treated for his illness, a result from his work at the plant, at a local government financed hospital free of charge.

It was Colin's life of petty crime, since he either refused or could't find a job, that lead to his incarceration into the Ruxton Towers medium security boys reformatory out in the Nottingham countryside. Being a nonconformist and not wanting to take orders Colin does in fact find an outlet to his frustrations in life in long distance running. It there that he can reflect on the life he lead, and is still leading, that's leading him nowhere but to a life behind bars or, like his dad, an early grave.

The reformatory's headmaster The Governor, Michael Redgrave, is obsessed in Ruxton Towers winning the five mile cross-country race and sees in Colin, who's by far the fastest boy on his running team, the person who can make his dream come true. This has Colin given all the freedom he needs by being allowed to run for hours, outside the conferment of the reformatory, to build up his wind and leg strength for the upcoming big race against Ruxton Towers rival in the cross-country race the exclusive prep school Ranley. It's during these long and lonely running sessions out in the Nottingham countryside that Colin starts to get a new insight on life. It's that insight that will have Colin overcome his fears not only of the outside world but reinforce his, being the nonconformist that he is, independence in him resisting being made to play ball with authority figures like the Governor; Who despite his good intentions for Colin is only interested in using the troubled young man to farther his own career!

***SPOILER ALERT***As the big race nears Colin's resentment in him being used for other people's, like the Governor, gains starts to conflict with his wanting to win the race for his own glory and salvation. Colin had been told by the Governor that if he wins he'll be released and given a chance to compete for England in the upcoming Olympics. What the Governor doesn't quite realize that is that the only salvation that Colin wants is freedom from being controlled and manipulated by men of authority like him! And it's in that grueling five mile long race that Coiln will show the Governor, and everyone in attendance, not just what he's made of, in his running ability, but how he can turn it on or off to his and only his, not the Governor's, advantage!
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9/10
Angry young man refuses to sell out
George Wright28 February 2009
Tom Courtenay is brilliant in this film. In this role, he is smart and more than a match for the police and his mother's insolent boyfriend. And he is not lacking in social skills. The music is brooding and jazzy, depending on the mood. The black/white film captures the prevailing mood particularly the rain, mud and fog. At another time, we see Colin and his girlfriend walking on the beach. A touching scene, we get the feeling that this was his real moment of happiness.

In this movie, directed by Tony Richardson, Tom Courtenay plays Colin Smith, the angry young man role – a staple of British cinema in the 1960's. Tom Courtenay went on to make a number of first-rate films and receive a number of awards, not least of which was a knighthood from the Queen.

The film deals with a young man from the wrong side of the tracks who clearly feels the pain and resentment that his life brings. The father dies leaving behind a young family, probably as a result of working conditions, harassment, burnout, and the other ailments of the industrial economy that sapped the lifeblood of working class males. Colin, the eldest son of the family is in a reform school by day where the boys are treated with about as much respect (lack of respect) as their fathers received in society.

Upon her husband's death, his mother collects 500 pounds from the firm where he was employed and her face shows the hurt and bitterness; it took his death to give them some material reward. She proceeds to spend the money on television, clothing, and a new bed (to be shared with the new boyfriend). Material possessions and pleasures are the carrots that are dangled in front of working class people. The eldest son Colin, Tom Courtenay, shows his contempt by burning the pound note his mother gives to him. He is so filled with anger and despair that nothing motivates him anymore. In one touching moment in the film, the young man knowing his father is about to die, goes into his room and places the blankets over him. It is almost as if he understands what his life was like and was now about to be set free. Just my take on this short scene.

As for the boy, the preferential treatment he starts to receive at school is offered in exchange for his expected victory in an athletic competition, long-distance running. A lean, fit youth, he excels in track and other sports. This catches the attention of the headmaster Ruxton Towers, performed by Michael Redgrave, who desires nothing more than to impress the Board of Governors with the school's prowess, particularly against a rival school in an upcoming event. Michael Redgrave is superb in a less than attractive role as the arrogant headmaster who feels his main responsibility is to keep the boys in check through humiliation and authoritarian rule, except when it is in his interest to use them for his own purposes.

The atmosphere is bleak and it is an irony to watch the boys sing the hymn Jerusalem at the tops of their voices with images of dark Satanic mills as Christians take up the fight to build a new Jerusalem in England. This song of social democracy gives some indication of the political stripes of the directors who made these angry young man movies. One thinks that their view of the working class, while sincere, had more than a little dislike for their lifestyle. Perhaps they pitied them.

The black and white photography is as stark as the movie itself. Avis Bunnage is Mrs. Smith and William Ash Hammond, the terminally ill father. James Bolam, who has a filmography that goes back to the early 60's is Colin's best friend. James Fox is the runner for the other school in the final challenge that pits him against our anti-hero Colin. Alec McCowen plays the role of a colleague of Ruxton Towers. A young John Thaw had a role in this movie as one of the reform school lads. He later went on to be Inspector Morse in the Morse television series. Julia Foster is the girlfriend, who later acted in Alfie.

A great cast for a film from the archives of Britain's best.
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English Rebel Without A Cause
Lechuguilla23 January 2009
Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay) is a young Englishman from a dysfunctional working-class family. He steals a bag of loot from a bakery, gets caught, and goes to reform school. Here, he takes up running as a way to gain favor from the school's headmaster (Michael Redgrave), a competitive man who wants desperately for his school to defeat a rival cross-country team.

The story is told in rambling flashbacks, which recall the miserable surroundings Colin had to endure before arriving at reform school. His mother is hateful and rancorous. But Colin is hardly less so. Throughout the film he has a chip on his shoulder, and he has no sense of humor. I guess we're supposed to root for Colin. Clearly, the film is the English version of "Rebel Without A Cause" (1955). But our "hero" in this film is just too petulant and ill-tempered to cheer on.

The film's B&W cinematography is competent, but the visuals are dreary. The low-contrast lighting and grubby surroundings make for a bleak setting. I did not like the jazz trumpet music. It injects an upbeat mood into a downbeat story. There are other inconsistencies as well. One involves a frivolous plot point near the halfway mark, suggesting that the film's director was ambivalent about the film's overall tone.

On the other hand, I did like the ending, which features some good editing. In the long-distance race, various flashbacks from earlier scenes alternate with Colin's run. It's a clever way to tie up the story into a unified, coherent whole.

This film is rather dated. For one thing, it was made before the advent of high-priced running shoes. And for another, our hero is never bothered by traffic. The idyllic countryside in the story belies the current harsh realities faced by most runners. But overall, the film has less to do with running than with youth rebellion. As such, it's rather more a sequel to typical rebel films of the 1950s.
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7/10
Whew!
Robert J. Maxwell12 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
There were a whole spate of British movies in the early 60s that introduced us to the shabbier side of everyday life among the wreckage of the Industrial Revolution. They launched the careers of a number of actors and directors -- Albert Finney, Richard Harris, Julie Christie, Tony Richardson, and Tom Courtenay among them.

Here, Tom Courtenay is a juvenile delinquent who lives in a crummy house with his sour puss Mom, his dying father, his noisy younger siblings, and, later, a dressed-up dude who is his Mom's guest. He can't wait to get out from under it all.

Busted for a minor crime he's sent to a reform school where the well-intentioned manager, Michael Redgrave, spots his ability as a long-distance runner and encourages him to train and to enter the contest against the local public school. Imagine -- a Borstal boy taking the cup from a team of pampered poufs! Running is hard but it suits Courtenay well, as it gives him a sense of escape from his drab and unpromising surroundings. Alas, when the big race against the Aryans who all speak with the received pronunciation arrives, he discovers that you can't run away from your background. He strikes a blow against the establishment by deliberately stopping before crossing the finish line. Michael Redgrave, who had visualized Courtenay in the Olympic games, is not pleased. In his own mind, Courtenay has struck a blow for the underprivileged working man, but only at his own expense.

These movies about the shabby lives of the working class with its small-reward system were refreshing and new at the time. It had hardly been done before with such style. They were as fascinating as some tribal ethnography of Amazon head hunters. In retrospect, a lot depends on how involving the plot was. Episodes illustrating the minor flaws, the dirty brick, the rough bonhomie, don't add up to much unless there is a narrative peg strong enough to hold their weight. This movie qualifies just barely. We don't see much running, and Courtenay's life may be unfocused and its texture abrasive, but he's not particularly lonely.

I knew a marathon runner once. Like all the others he was more than six feet tall and had the long legs of a giraffe. When he crossed the finish line he was panting and sobbing, not merely tired.

I kept thinking about the interaction between genetics and environment. Take a soul with Courtenay's inborn characteristics -- that talent for running, especially long-distance running which takes more than momentary concentration. Give him that adventurous and slightly iconoclastic spirit. Then, instead of having him born to a poor and dysfunctional family, give him to a middle-class household with a sensitive mother and a healthy father and send him to that hoity toity public school. He'd cross that finish line with a grin a mile wide and go on to be a clever lawyer.
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Ultimate Kitchen Sink Drama
harry-765 August 2002
The way Tony Richardson builds his climax in "The Lonliness of the Long Distance Runner," he skillfully summarizes the psychological plight of the 60s British youth. To join or jinx the establishment?

Richardson's hero decides on the latter; however, it does seem a rather tawdry victory. For nothing is changed: the system goes right along, uncaring whether or not our lad wins or looses the race.

Thus, there are simply personal choices--options which have more to do with self than system. One cannot move the world; it progresses, regardless.

Tom Courtenay gives his most memorable performance here, ably assisted by Michael Redgrave. The black and white cinematography and editing enhance this effort, and a clean, rather sparse score completes the film's appeal.

One is reminded here that, in truth, there's no real loosing, only degrees of winning.
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9/10
Sets the standard
jholtz3 August 2002
Despite the now-clumsy cinematography--which is beautiful, regardless--this is one of the most understated, yet powerful, portrayals of socioeconomic disparity I have seen. Tom Courtenay is simply wonderful. His facial expressions often seemed to make dialogue unnecessary. Highest recommendation.
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8/10
Runner finishes ahead of most.
st-shot17 December 2010
Coping poorly with the death of his father and the disruptive mood it creates around the house when his mother takes up with her lover before the old man has even reached room temperature Colin Smith chooses to rebel rather than take up the offer of the same job that hastened dad's early demise. Along with a mate he robs a bakery after hours but the two prove to be inept crooks and he is quickly brought to justice and sent off to Ruxton Towers, a reformatory. The warden or Governor (Michael Redgrave) as he's called lives by the credo of "You play ball with us and we'll play ball with you" and when he sees that Colin has natural athletic abilities as a runner he begins to give him privileges. On the day of Ruxton's big race against a private school all hopes are pinned on Smith. The question is what will he do with the ball now that he has as he puts it "the whip hand".

Runner should be viewed in two phases. Once before turning twenty -one and the other after forty. As a teen I admired and applauded Colin's defiance, as an adult faced with responsibilities I wanted to whack him on the back of the head and say "wise up". Either way the film remains one of the best examples of the British kitchen sink form from the angry young man era with Tom Courtnay as Colin giving a standout performance. Bereft of movie star looks Courtnay's snare and curt responses speaks volumes to the hypocrisy that's heaped on him as he refuses to give an inch to a system that he sees as wanting to chew him up.

Tony Richardson's direction is well paced and audacious as he throws in a little slapstick to liven up the glum setting of row house existence as well as deliver some devastating flashback imagery that haunts Colin's jaunts of bucolic freedom. Redgrave's Governor is a perfect symbol of well bred authority that motivates Colin and gives rational to his actions.

As we age we better understand that if you are going to get along you've got to go along. As our mountain of idealized principle in our youth erodes to a grassy knoll through life's experience and realities we see Colin as a victim of his age as well as his environment. Frustrated as I may be at this age with this "failure to communicate" , a grudging respect remains however for Colin's attempt to be true to himself which Richardson powerfully sums up in the films climax.
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