Friday, August 17, 2018

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

Directed by Tony Richardson and written by Alan Sillitoe that is based on the latter’s short story, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is the story of a young man who is sent to a reform school where he is seen as a gifted runner only to be exploited by a governor for selfish reasons. The film is the study of a young man who would be given all sorts of privileges where he later copes with the role he is playing. Starring Tom Courtenay, Michael Redgrave, Avis Bunnage, James Bolam, and Alec McCowen. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a riveting and mesmerizing film from Tony Richardson.

The film follows a young man who is sent to a reform school following an act of theft where he tries to serve his time until its governor notices his gift as a long-distance runner and hopes to have him win an annual cup against a nearby rival school. It’s a film that plays into the plight of this young man who isn’t just dealing with the loss of his father but also changes and frustrations that would lead to his incarceration. Alan Sillitoe’s screenplay has a back-and-forth narrative that is largely a reflective narrative that is told largely through the perspective of its protagonist Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay). The narrative is mainly set in this reform school where Smith has to deal with other students and the sense of authority yet his gift as a long-distance runner gets the attention of the school’s governor (Michael Redgrave). The governor sees Smith as someone he believes can make an example towards the other students at the school although Smith reflects on the events in his life before he got arrested.

The flashbacks show the struggle Smith had as it relates to the passing of his father and the money that his mother (Avis Bunnage) would spend that his father had earned as she also takes on a new lover. While Smith would gain a girlfriend in Audrey (Topsy Jane) during that time, he would struggle with his lack of direction and prospects where he engages in criminal activities. Upon his arrest and being sent to the reform school, he copes with not just what he’s been given from the governor but also a growing disillusionment with the ways of the world.

Tony Richardson’s direction is definitely engaging for the way he captures the life of a young man from a working-class environment as he is put into a world that is filled with a lot of rules as the freedom he’s given doesn’t make him feel free. Shot largely in Surrey with the reform school scenes shot at the nearby Ruxley Towers at the village of Claygate. Richardson aims for an intimate approach to the world of reform schools and the working class world that Smith is in with the usage of hand-held cameras where he would use close-ups and medium shots to play into the world that Smith is in. There are some wide shots that include these amazing dolly-tracking shots that capture Smith running through the woods as he’s training for the film’s climatic race against a rival school. Richardson would also play into the uncertainty of Smith’s life before his incarceration as he just wanders around aimlessly either stealing cars or do something with his friend Mike (James Bolam). There’s a looseness to the scenes in the city as well as the running while the scenes at Smith’s family home and at the school are tight in the presentation. The film’s climax which is this race against a rival school would play into everything Smith has endure as well as everything he’s been through at the school as he would make an act of defiance through his gift. Overall, Richardson creates a rapturous film about a young man dealing with his uncertainty and oppression at a reform school.

Cinematographer Walter Lassally does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography to capture some of the gray colors of the exteriors in the locations where Smith is running as well as the usage of lights for some of the film’s interiors at night. Editor Antony Gibbs does amazing work with the editing as its usage of jump-cuts, speed-cuts for some comedic moments, and montages help play into some of the emotional moments in the film including its climax. Production designer Ralph W. Brinton and art director Edward Marshall do fantastic work with the look of the interior at the home that Smith and his family live in as well as the school quarters.

Costume designer Sophie Devine does terrific work with the costumes from the uniforms and clothes that Smith and others had to wear at the school to the more posh look of the rival school during the film’s climax. The sound work of Stephen Dalby is excellent for the sound that play into the atmosphere of the locations including an eerie sound montage in a key scene for the film’s climax. The film’s music by John Addison is superb for its playful score for some of the humorous moments as well as the climatic moments before the race as it help add to the dramatic tension that looms throughout the film.

The casting by Maude Spector is wonderful as it include some notable small roles from Julia Foster as Mike’s girlfriend Gladys, Joe Robinson as a student named Roach, Dervis Ward as a detective who suspects Smith over theft, Topsy Jane as Smith’s girlfriend Audrey, James Fox as a runner for the rival school in Gunthorpe, James Bolam as Smith’s best friend Mike, and Alec McCowen as a school official named Brown. Avis Bunnage is excellent as Smith’s mother who cares more about living a lifestyle with a new lover and getting all sorts of things for herself and her younger children rather than be concerned with her eldest son’s well-being as well as not caring about her husband’s sudden passing. Michael Redgrave is brilliant as the school governor as a man who sees Smith’s gift as a runner in which he hopes to exploit for his own reasons as well as make offers to Smith that end up being very troubling. Finally, there’s Tom Courtenay in an incredible performance as Colin Smith as a young man who is troubled by his father’s death and lack of direction where is sent to a reform school as he deals with the privileges he’s been given as well as revelations about what is happening to others at the school as it is a breakthrough performance from Courtenay.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a tremendous film from Tony Richardson that features top-notch performances from Tom Courtenay and Michael Redgrave. Along with its striking visuals, fascinating study of character and environment, an offbeat music score, and intricate sound presentation. It’s a film that explores a man given the chance to make something of himself but also facing choices that are filled with compromises as well as guilt over his sense of loss and lack of direction that would ultimate force him to rebel. In the end, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a phenomenal film from Tony Richardson.

Tony Richardson Films: (Momma Don’t Allow) – (Look Back in Anger) – (The Entertainer) – (Sanctuary (1961 film)) – A Taste of Honey - (Tom Jones (1963 film)) – (The Loved One) – (Mademoiselle (1966 film)) – (The Sailor from Gibraltar) – (The Charge of the Light Brigade) – (Laughter in the Dark) – (Hamlet (1969 film)) – (Ned Kelly (1970 film)) – (A Delicate Balance) – (Dead Cert) – (Joseph Andrew) – (The Border (1982 film)) – (The Hotel New Hampshire) – (Penalty Phase) – (The Phantom of the Opera (1990 film)) – (Women & Men: Stories of Seduction) – (Blue Sky)

© thevoid99 2018

1 comment:

Dell said...

Not familiar with this one at all, but it does sound very interesting. I saw Courtenay in 45 Years and after all these years, he was still fantastic.