|Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay)|
I guess it was about time I got around to this film. I took a course back in the spring of 2008 on Italian neorealism. It also covered the larger context of cinematic realism and our teacher flat out told us that he was not going to show this film. He said that every other teacher shows this movie as an example of British Free Cinema/British New Wave despite there being other perfectly good examples like Lindsay Anderson’s This Sporting Life. I must have listened and avoided it. I’ve seen Look Back In Anger, Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, and even Anderson’s short O Dreamland. So it was about time I saw this film.
This is your classic screw you British society film that came out of British Free Cinema, but it also acts as a bridge to the less realistic and more free formed films of the British New Wave. It tells the story of Colin who grows up in a low to middle class home where his father dies from hard work, his mother spends the compensation money, and basically prostitutes herself to a new man to keep the slightly better lifestyle 500 quid bought her. Colin pulls off a stupid little robbery and it doesn’t take long for him to get caught. In prison he spends his days disassembling gas masks and running. He’s good at running and there is a big contest coming up against a local school. There is no question that Colin can win the race. The question is whether he should.
The film is in stark black and white and uses quite a few documentary style techniques along with very gritty sets. However, we also cut across time from the prison to the home and back again telling the narratives in parallel. Sometimes in clear narrative blocks, but other times it increases in rapidity dissolving any barriers between the two time periods or any sense of linearity. The camera moves with a freedom not seen since the silent screen. This film has one foot in realism and the other foot in director Tony Richardson’s next film Tom Jones.
There are better films in this genre, but I don’t think a more perfect textbook example can be found. I highly recommend it.