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Film: If...

if.... is a 1968 film written by David Sherwin, directed by Lindsay Anderson, and starring Malcolm McDowell, in his film debut, as Mick Travis.

The film is set at a Boarding School, and is best known for the climactic sequence in which conflicts between the students and the school authorities escalate into outright warfare with automatic weapons.

Sherwin, Anderson, and McDowell collaborated on two further films, O Lucky Man! and Britannia Hospital; both also feature McDowell as a character named Mick Travis, but they do not constitute a series except in Broad Strokes.

If you are searching for the equally subversive and seditious left-wing political cartoon series by Steve Bell, go here.

This film provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Powerful Student Council: The Year 13 "Whips" (prefects), lead by Rowntree, definitely rule the school and have a small army of younger pupils (the "Scum") who do fagging duties for them - making tea, running errands, warming toilet seats, shaving them....and probably other stuff too.
  • Adults Are Useless: The teachers, including the Head-Master, seem fairly oblivious to the goings-on at College House.
  • Axes at School: The films surreal final scenes show Travis and his comrades taking up arms and attacking fellow pupils, teachers and parents during Founder's Day.
  • Anti-Hero: Travis, at most times Nominal Hero would fit too.
  • Audience Surrogate: Jute. Audiences unfamiliar with the particulars and traditions of British boarding school life are able to follow his bewilderment and subsequent crash-course in protocol as he starts the term at College House.
    • Meta Guy
    • Fish out of Water: Both Jute and any viewers who may find the boarding school environment of the late 60's totally alien.
  • Bishounen: Bobby Philips, with his feminine features and wavy, flaxen hair provides a textbook example.
    Philips? That little blond - Mwah!
  • Boarding School of Horrors
  • Bolivian Army Ending: At the end of the film, in a surreal sequence, Travis' group discovers a cache of automatic weapons, and revolt against the establishment. On Founders' Day, when parents are visiting the school, they start a fire under the hall, smoke out the parents, staff and boys, and open fire on them from a rooftop. Led by the visiting General who was giving the speech, the staff and boys break open the Combined Cadet Force armoury and fire back. The film ends just as "The Girl" shoots the Head-Master through the head - it is never revealed what happened following the uprising.
  • Bourgeois Bohemian: Travis (and friends) are this in the making, with their strong counter-culture sympathies despite having clearly upper-middle class social backgrounds.
  • Break the Haughty: Travis and friends regularly take the snotty Denson and power-hungry Stephans down a peg or two, even though both can technically order them about in their role as Whips (prefects).
  • Brilliant but Lazy: Travis.
  • British Stuffiness
  • Bully Hunter: Travis and Johnny Knightly, who never take any shit from the prefects.
  • Butt Monkey: Biles
    Pass it on - "Biles, why are you a freak?"
  • Corporal Punishment: Horribly realised on a number of occasions - but especially graphic when Rowntree takes a running start-up to cane Travis.
    • Stiff Upper Lip: Tradition demands that he must then thank Rowntree and shake hands for the above.....
  • Covert Pervert: The apparently meek Mrs. Kemp enjoys walking naked through the boys' dormitory and washroom while fondling soap, towels and other objects the boys have carelessly strewn about.
    • The Rule of First Adopters: The above scene features the first instance of a full-frontal female nude passed by the British Board of Film Classification.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: In another highly controversial scene, Mr. Kemp sings a hymn as his wife accompanies him on the recorder; the matron, overhearing, is driven to near orgasm.
  • Dawson Casting: Played straight with the older pupils, who were mostly in their early to mid-20's at the time of shooting, but the younger First Years (the "Scum") all look to be of the correct age (11-12 years old) for starting secondary school.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Some sequences are in black and white. Accounts vary as to how much this was for artistic reasons and how much was down to technical difficulties and budget restrictions.
  • False Reassurance: To placate the understandably nervous head-master of the actual school used for the film's location, the filmmakers sent the school a fake script omitting the students turning on the staff and parents with guns.
  • The Fatalist / Nietzsche Wannabe / Put Them All Out of My Misery: Travis overlaps all three...
    The whole world will end very soon - black, brittle bodies peeling into ash...
    There's no such thing as a wrong war. Violence and revolution are the only pure acts.
    One man can change the world with a bullet in the right place.
  • Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence
  • Foreshadowing: As the pupils return at the start of a new term, Travis arrives with a suitcase on his shoulder, wearing a black hat, with a black scarf across his face to hide his moustache. Stephans comments, "God, it's Guy Fawkes back again", hinting at the conclusion of the film....
  • Guile Hero: Travis
  • Longing Look: One of the more controversial scenes (at the 1968 release) involves Philips checking out Wallace as he performs on the parallel bars. The use of a young boy, shot in slow-mo to accentuate his beauty and the sexual tension, was incredibly risqué for 1968.
  • Loveable Rogue: Travis and his mates - Wallace and Johnny.
  • Ms. Fanservice: "The Girl" is HOT
  • Moral Guardians: Predictably, and perhaps justifiably, the film cause moral outcry in a number of circles — a British ambassador called the film "an insult to the nation". The then Lord Brabourne read an early draft and called it "the most evil and perverted script I've ever read. It must never see the light of day".
  • Nice Guy: Wallace
  • Sadist Teacher / Sinister Minister: The chaplain, who is also the geometry master, enjoys grasping at boys' nipples through their shirts while they recite their lessons.
  • Sex Is Violence: Travis and "The Girl" wrestle and writhe around snarling at each other during their highly surreal, animalistic sex-scene.
  • Situational Sexuality: All of the sixth form prefects (and some younger pupils) show an effusive (or uncomfortable) attraction to Bobby Philips, an extremely Bishounen First Year pupil.
    • Boys Love: Wallace, having clocked Philips watching him practice in the gym, eventually takes him to bed.
  • Swirlie: Biles, the dorm Butt Monkey, is dunked into a toilet.
  • Teens Are Monsters
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Travis delivers a cutting one to Rowntree, before he is about to cane him.
    The thing I hate about you, Rowntree, is the way you give Coca-Cola to your scum, and your best teddy bear to Oxfam, and expect us to lick your frigid fingers for the rest of your frigid life.
  • Tone Shift: The first half of the film presents a fairly normal exposé of British boarding school life in 1968.....but things get much more surreal in the second half, following the Café scenes.
  • Truth in Television: Any British ex-public school pupil, even those who recently left school, will recognise elements of their own schooling in the film — eccentric teachers (cycling into a classroom is mild), baffling rituals and rules of precedence, merciless bullying (for those unlucky enough not to avoid it), school-boy crushes, masters volleying homework across the form-room etc.
  • The Vamp: "The Girl"
    Go on. Look at me. Look at my eyes. I'll kill you. Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror and my eyes get bigger and bigger. And I'm like a tiger. I like tigers. Rrrrah!

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