Tom Courtenay is brilliant in this film. In this role, he is smart and more than a match for the police and his mother's insolent boyfriend. And he is not lacking in social skills. The music is brooding and jazzy, depending on the mood. The black/white film captures the prevailing mood particularly the rain, mud and fog. At another time, we see Colin and his girlfriend walking on the beach. A touching scene, we get the feeling that this was his real moment of happiness.
In this movie, directed by Tony Richardson, Tom Courtenay plays Colin Smith, the angry young man role – a staple of British cinema in the 1960's. Tom Courtenay went on to make a number of first-rate films and receive a number of awards, not least of which was a knighthood from the Queen.
The film deals with a young man from the wrong side of the tracks who clearly feels the pain and resentment that his life brings. The father dies leaving behind a young family, probably as a result of working conditions, harassment, burnout, and the other ailments of the industrial economy that sapped the lifeblood of working class males. Colin, the eldest son of the family is in a reform school by day where the boys are treated with about as much respect (lack of respect) as their fathers received in society.
Upon her husband's death, his mother collects 500 pounds from the firm where he was employed and her face shows the hurt and bitterness; it took his death to give them some material reward. She proceeds to spend the money on television, clothing, and a new bed (to be shared with the new boyfriend). Material possessions and pleasures are the carrots that are dangled in front of working class people. The eldest son Colin, Tom Courtenay, shows his contempt by burning the pound note his mother gives to him. He is so filled with anger and despair that nothing motivates him anymore. In one touching moment in the film, the young man knowing his father is about to die, goes into his room and places the blankets over him. It is almost as if he understands what his life was like and was now about to be set free. Just my take on this short scene.
As for the boy, the preferential treatment he starts to receive at school is offered in exchange for his expected victory in an athletic competition, long-distance running. A lean, fit youth, he excels in track and other sports. This catches the attention of the headmaster Ruxton Towers, performed by Michael Redgrave, who desires nothing more than to impress the Board of Governors with the school's prowess, particularly against a rival school in an upcoming event. Michael Redgrave is superb in a less than attractive role as the arrogant headmaster who feels his main responsibility is to keep the boys in check through humiliation and authoritarian rule, except when it is in his interest to use them for his own purposes.
The atmosphere is bleak and it is an irony to watch the boys sing the hymn Jerusalem at the tops of their voices with images of dark Satanic mills as Christians take up the fight to build a new Jerusalem in England. This song of social democracy gives some indication of the political stripes of the directors who made these angry young man movies. One thinks that their view of the working class, while sincere, had more than a little dislike for their lifestyle. Perhaps they pitied them.
The black and white photography is as stark as the movie itself. Avis Bunnage is Mrs. Smith and William Ash Hammond, the terminally ill father. James Bolam, who has a filmography that goes back to the early 60's is Colin's best friend. James Fox is the runner for the other school in the final challenge that pits him against our anti-hero Colin. Alec McCowen plays the role of a colleague of Ruxton Towers. A young John Thaw had a role in this movie as one of the reform school lads. He later went on to be Inspector Morse in the Morse television series. Julia Foster is the girlfriend, who later acted in Alfie.
A great cast for a film from the archives of Britain's best.