The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

In this key film of the 1960s British New Wave, class tensions surface as borstal boy Tom Courtenay competes in a cross-country race against public-school rivals.

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Alternative titles

  • Rebel with a Cause Alternative

Introduction

“The counter-Hollywood bloody-mindedness packs a knockout punch”
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 2002

The creative explosion of French cinema’s New Wave in the late 1950s inspired British filmmakers to attempt a translation of its freewheeling, self-aware style.
Director Tony Richardson’s showy direction here matters less in retrospect than the refreshing honesty of the film, with Tom Courtenay’s athletic protagonist and his fellow borstal boys presenting a spirited, defiant view of working-class lives that was still rare on British screens at the time.

Pitting relative newcomer Courtenay against stalwart of the acting establishment Sir Michael Redgrave (as the well-meaning but patronising borstal governor) brought out the clash of generations and classes, while the downbeat conclusion to the climactic cross-country race dramatised both a desire for social change and a lack of faith in it proceeding.

Nottingham writer Alan Sillitoe, who expanded his story for the screenplay, supplied the novel and adaptation for another British film milestone, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960).

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