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Film / The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

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The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a 1962 British New Wave/Kitchen Sink Drama film directed by Tony Richardson, adapted by Alan Sillitoe from his own short story of the same name.

It tells a story of Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay), a rebellious young working-class lad who finds himself sentenced to the Ruxton Towers borstal after stealing from a bakery. There he attracts the attention of the Governor (Michael Redgrave), who discovers that Colin is a capable cross-country runner and can win a prize for the borstal.

This movie is somewhat similar to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. However, being made in 1962 this one is visibly artier, as the New Wave reached its peak everywhere. Also, the protagonist is edgier and more complicated than the one in the earlier film.


  • Aborted Arc: The plotline of the new and fresh psychiatrist full of hopes to help the borstal inmates with his new methods is entirely dropped. He has a meaningful discussion with the governor in the beginning in which he shows himself eager to rectify the young delinquents and the sceptical governor visibly tries to cool him down. However, this conflict is never developed further.
  • Anti-Hero: The main character, Colin Smith, is a young delinquent.
  • Anti-Villain: Ruxton Towers Reformatory Governor. He is quite manipulative and primarily interested in the reputation of his borstal; however, that goes with this trope. He is eager to play by the rules if his unruly charges are honest with him.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Invoked by Colin for his parents about whom he tells that they always quarrelled. Still, they had four kids together so Darwin is satisfied with them. Interestingly Colin says that his (beloved) father only threatened to bash his wife's face but not that he actually hit her.
  • Beta Couple: Mike and Gladys. Characteristically both boy and girl in this couple are more attractive than Colin and Audrey. Of course, Colin is way more individual than his generic guy friend.
  • Big Guy: Roach.
  • Boarding School of Horrors: What else can you expect from a borstal?
  • Captain Obvious: When asked by the psychiatrist why he is in Borstal, Colin replies: "because I was sent here". The psychiatrist insists: "but why". Colin replies: "I got caught. Did not run fast enough". (Interestingly this answer is in fact false as it was not exactly the lack of speed that brought him to the borstal. Though it is in line with the Central Theme.)
  • Central Theme: Colin's urge to always run away, as well as the impossibility to run away for good. Invoked also by Audrey. Once they go side by side in the dunes and Colin suddenly starts to run, urging Audrey to follow him, she cannot keep up.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Subverted in the end by Colin. When his father is ill it is never mentioned what his ailment is. Later Colin mentions his tumor comparing it to the cashbox hidden under his shirt.
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": Subverted by Governor, who wants to be called "sir" by Colin.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Michael Redgrave is credited only as "Ruxton Towers Reformatory Governor".
  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted: Played straight for Mrs Smith, who quickly spends 500 quid of allowance paid to her by the company which employed her deceased husband.
  • The Generic Guy: Colin's friend Mike lacks any distinctive personality characteristics.
  • Idiot Ball: Putting the stolen money in the drainpipe was not the cleverest decision. Even though Colin actually got caught only by Contrived Coincidence, the rain would easily wash the money away not in the presence of the police inspector, in which case Colin would simply lose the booty.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: Played with. When the main character pronounces this phrase it does not turn out that he is ill and is going to die. It is just indeed cold in the street and he does not have a coat on. Soon he robs a bakery to buy a coat (later this matter of coat is dropped). That's the crime for which he is later sent into the borstal. So while he does not die nothing good happens after this phrase.
  • Literalist Snarking: When Smith is presented to the Governor, the latter asks his name and he answers "Smith". He then is told to say "sir". He re-answers: "Sir Smith".
  • Mathematician's Answer: Colin Smith is by no means a mathematician, but when asked what would he do if he wins 75 thousand pounds, he answers that he will count the money.
  • Mirroring Factions: The final sequence is dedicated to the sport event where the Ruxton Towers borstal faces a prestigious public school. When the young delinquents meet the lads from the upper-middle class it turns out that those lads have it exactly as hard there as the borstal inmates. For example, the public schoolboys' food is terrible, and if they are caught smoking, they are severely beaten.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Colin's mother, Mrs Smith, brings in Brown too soon after her husband is dead.
  • Pet the Dog: The Governor does not deprive the inmates in the borstal of the show despite their riot earlier this day, though at the same time, one of the inmates is brutally punished. His beating up is intercut with the performance.
  • Prison Riot: Because of the atrocious food. It is promptly suppressed and the Governor even allows the inmates (bar the key culprits) to watch the performance of the artists who came to the borstal.
  • The Reveal: In the sequence in the beginning when Colin rides in a van, the viewer first sees only his face. Then the camera tilts downward and it is revealed that his hands are cuffed and he is transported to the borstal with a group of other young delinquents.
  • The Shrink: Appears to be closer to The Well-Meaning, But Dopey and Ineffective Shrink, at least in the frozen and sceptical perception of the main character. In any case after he plays a fairly significant role in the first act he is later forgotten.
  • Smug Snake: For Colin Smith it is Brown, the new man of his mother, whom she brought into their house immediately after their father died. He is not made up to be very sympathetic but never does anything outright condemnable. He also has nothing to do with the arrest of Colin.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: The psychiatrist who interviews Colin after his acceptance into the borstal induces him to tell what he thought or felt when he robbed the bakery. Colin subverts his efforts answering very matter-of-factly, e.g., that when he was robbing the bakery he was not thinking as he was robbing it.
  • Undercrank: Used here several times for comedy, mostly in the scenes where Colin and Mike run together complete with an upbeat tune, but also in the very beginning when boys' undressing is sped up.
  • Vacation Episode: Several for two couples, Colin and Audrey and Mike and Gladys. Once they end up at the sea shore.
  • What Are You in For?: Subverted by the Governor, who says that he does not have to know what they've done. Of course he can read it any time he wishes.
  • With Us or Against Us: Invoked by Mike, who ends in the same borstal as Colin when he learns that Colin became somewhat of a favourite for the Governor and is preparing to run for the cup to win it for the establishment.