The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (film)
|The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner|
|Directed by||Tony Richardson|
|Written by||Alan Sillitoe|
|Editing by||Antony Gibbs|
|Studio||Woodfall Film Productions|
|Release date(s)||21 September 1962|
|Running time||104 min|
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a 1962 film, based on the short story of the same name. The screenplay, like the short story, was written by Alan Sillitoe. The film was directed by Tony Richardson, one of the new young directors emerging from documentary films, specifically a series of 1950s filmmakers known as the Free Cinema movement.
It tells the story of "a rebellious youth" (played by Tom Courtenay), sentenced to a borstal (boys' reformatory) for robbing a bakery, who rises through the ranks of the institution through his prowess as a long distance runner. During his solitary runs, reveries of his life and times before his incarceration lead him to re-evaluate his privileged status as the Governor's (played by Michael Redgrave) prize runner."
Set in a grim environment of early-1960s Britain and like other films which deal with rebellious youth, it is a story of how the youth chooses to defy authority, in so doing securing his self-esteem (at the probable personal cost of continued confinement). The film places its characters thoroughly in their social milieu. Class consciousness abounds throughout: the "them" and "us" notions which Richardson shows reflect the very basis of British society at the time, so that Redgrave's "proper gentleman" of a Governor is in contrast to many of the young working-class inmates.
Much of the filming took place in and around Claygate, Surrey at Ruxley Towers, a Victorian mock castle built by Lord Foley (hence Ruxton Towers). The building had been used as a NAAFI base in the war, giving it a military atmosphere. The original trumpet theme to the movie was performed by Fred Muscroft (the Scots Guards Principal Cornet at the time).
The film was heavily sampled in the Chumbawamba song "Alright Now", and text from the book upon which the film is based formed the cover of their single "Just Look At Me Now" (A monologue starts in plain grey typeface on the front and another appears on the back).
Plot summary 
The film opens with Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay) running, alone, along a bleak country road somewhere in rural England. In a brief voiceover, Colin tells us that running is the way his family has always coped with the world's troubles, but that in the end, the runner is always alone and cut off from spectators, left to deal with life on his own.
Next, we see Colin in handcuffs with a group of other similarly encumbered young men. They are being taken to Ruxton Towers, what we might today term a detention centre for juvenile offenders, a reform school. It is overseen by "the Governor", who believes that the hard work and discipline imposed on his charges will ultimately make them useful members of society. Colin, sullen and rebellious, immediately catches his eye as a test of his beliefs.
An important part of the Governor's rehabilitation programme is athletics, and he soon notices that Colin is a talented runner, able to easily outrun Ruxton's reigning long distance runner. As the Governor was once a runner himself, he is especially keen on Colin's abilities because for the first time, his charges have been invited to compete in a five-mile cross country run against a nearby public school, Ranley, and its privileged students from upper-class families. The Governor sees the invitation as an important way to demonstrate the success of his rehabilitation programme.
As the Governor takes Colin under his wing, offering him outdoor gardening work and eventually the freedom of practice runs outside Ruxton's barbed wire fences, we learn in a series of flashbacks how Colin came to be incarcerated. We see his difficult, economically strained family life in a lower-class workers' complex in industrial Nottingham. Without a job, Colin indulges in petty crime in the company of his best friend, Mike (James Bolam). Meanwhile, at home, his father's long years of toil in a local factory have resulted in a terminal illness for which his father refuses treatment. Colin is angered by the callousness of his mother (Avis Bunnage), who he knows already has a "fancy man", and who Colin finds has neglected to give his father a herbal concoction for pain and, as Colin believes, brings about his father's death.
Colin rebels by refusing a job offered to him at his father's factory and watches with disdain as his mother spends the five hundred pounds in insurance money the company pays her on clothes, a television and new furniture. When his mother's lover moves into the house and after an argument when his mother tells him to leave, Colin and Mike take to the streets. Colin uses his portion of the insurance money to treat Mike and two girls they meet to an outing in Skegness, where Colin falls in love with his date, Audrey (Topsy Jane), and confesses to her that she is the first woman he's ever slept with. She eventually extracts a half-hearted promise from Colin that he might look for work, implying his feelings for her are such that marriage is a possibility.
But one night, while prowling the streets of Nottingham with Mike, the two spot an open window at the back of a building. It's a bakery, with nothing much to steal but the cashbox, which contains about seventy pounds. Mike is all for another outing to Skegness with the girls, but Colin is more cautious and hides the money in a drainpipe outside his prefab house. Soon, the police come calling, accusing Colin of the robbery. He tells the surly detective (Dervis Ward) he has no knowledge of the crime. The detective produces a search warrant on a subsequent visit, but can find nothing. Finally, frustrated and angry, he returns to say he'll be watching Colin. As the two stand at Colin's front door in the rain, the torrent of water pouring down the drainpipe dislodges the money, which washes out around Colin's feet.
This backstory is interspersed in flashbacks with Colin's present-time experiences at Ruxton Towers, where he must contend with the jealousy of his fellow inmates over the favouritism shown to him by the Governor, especially when the Governor decides not to discipline Colin, as he does the others, over a dining-hall riot because of Ruxton's poor food. Colin also witnesses the kind of treatment given to his fellows who are not so fortunate - beatings, bread-and-water diets, demeaning work in the machine shop or the kitchen.
Finally, the day of the five-mile race against Ranley arrives, and Colin quickly sizes up who the school's best runner is (played by James Fox) and who he must beat. With a proud Governor looking on, the starting gun is fired. Colin soon overtakes Ranley's star runner and has a comfortable lead with a sure win; but a series of jarring images run through his mind, jumpcut flashes of his life at home and his mother's neglect, his father's dead body, stern lectures from detectives, police, the Governor, the hopelessness of any future life with Audrey. Just yards from the finish line, he stops running and remains in place, despite the calls, howls, protests from the Ruxton Towers crowd, and especially the Governor. In close-up, we see Colin look directly at the Governor as a rebellious sneer plays on his face. The expression remains there as the Ranley runner passes him and crosses the finish line to victory. The Governor's anger is evident.
At the end of the film, Colin is back in the machine shop, punished and now ignored by the Governor. But he seems calm, even content, because in the end, he has refused to submit to authority and has settled into the loneliness of the title.
See also