From The Warner Archive: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, 1962 (dir. Tony Richardson)

I love the British New Wave. I really, really do. One of the first films from the era/style that I saw was Tony Richardson’s film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner from 1962. I saw it on TCM as part of group of films hand-picked by guest programmer Benjamin McKenzie (some day, I’m gonna track him down and talk kitchen sink dramas with him!) and I was blown away by how great it was. Like many of the films in the wave, it’s based on a short story by Alan Sillitoe. Clearly, I need to get to reading his stuff.


This was director Richardson’s 6th film (Look Back in Anger is a must) and with his 7th film, Tom Jones, Richardson would win a Best Director Oscar and the film the Best Picture award. There’s still quiet a few of his films I’ve yet to see, but I’m glad this one is finally back on the market thanks to the Warner Archive. Although this release is manufactured on demand, the disc comes with subtitles and scene selection menus.


The story centers around Colin Smith, who has been sent to reform school after robbing a bakery. Much of the film is told in snippets and in a non-linear fashion, Smith reminiscing about times past. Tom Courtenay is one of my favorite actors. This was his second film and I highly recommend his third film, John Schlesinger’s Billy Liar. Courtenay has received two Academy Award nominations: Best Supporting Actor for 1965’s Doctor Zhivago and 1983’s The Dresser (oh god watch that film; he and Albert Finney are flawless).


Courtenay is so damn good in this film. One of the things I tend to love about these “angry young man” films, is that, most of the time, these men have every right to feel the anger towards life that they feel. It’s an angst we all tend to feel, but these working class characters are stuck in a life they can’t see the pleasure in (or even when they do, it’s not enough). It’s that age old existential desire for life to mean more and for their to be a point to it all. Smith has seen things, both in his home life, and in his country, that he can’t explain and that he can’t understand, even though he knows he wants to.


In the flashbacks, we see that he got some solace in life with the love of a good woman by the name of Audrey (Topsy Jane). Their romance is sweet and naive and passionate and if only life could always be like the holiday they take to the coast, things would be peaches and cream, right?


This film fits in the “sports as a metaphor for life,” category, though I do love the way it’s used. Early on, one of the school officials asks the “Governor” (Michael Redgrave)  of the reform school if, perhaps, life is more than just football? The look her receives in return is all the answer he needs. Smith, always a good runner, becomes a favorite of the Governor, causing strife with his fellow “students.” The film builds to a final five-mile long distance run, with the reform school going up against a posh school for the championship.



The end, as Smith runs the five miles, is a great modern use of montage, as he thinks on all the people he knows, the things he’s seen and the lies he’s been told. He thinks on the good things, too. This is all edited together brilliantly by Antony Gibbs, in a style that now seems commonplace, but fifty years ago was groundbreaking. The final exchange between Smith and the Governor tells us that Smith has learned something at the reform school after all, though it might not have been the lesson the Governor had wanted to teach.

Disclaimer: This review is based on review disc given to me by the Warner Archive, though the opinions are all my own.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on May 21, 2013, in Classic Film, DVDs and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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