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The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner(1962)


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teaser The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)


Colin Smith, an aimless working class youth, is sent to borstal (British reform school) after his impulsive robbery of a local bakery. While incarcerated, the rebellious and surly young man discovers a talent for long distance running, and in his long cross-country runs, he thinks back to his life in the poor districts of industrial Nottingham and the circumstances that brought him to a reformatory. The school's governor, seeing an opportunity to best a respectable boys school in a track competition, encourages Colin to train and perfect his abilities, suggesting the boy might find a new life and way out of his miserable circumstances by competing all the way to the Olympics. But will Colin's pride in his skills outweigh his strong views about cooperating with an established authority he despises?

Director: Tony Richardson
Producers: Tony Richardson, Michael Holden
Screenplay: Alan Sillitoe, based on his short story
Cinematography: Walter Lassally
Editing: Antony Gibbs
Art Direction: Ted Marshall
Production Design: Ralph Brinton
Original Music: John Addison
Cast: Michael Redgrave (Governor), Tom Courtenay (Colin Smith), Avis Bunnage (Mrs. Smith), Alec McCowen (Brown), James Bolam (Mike), Topsy Jane (Audrey).


The late 1950s and early 60s saw some major changes in the established film industries of several countries. As the old studio system started to collapse and more independent productions made their way into mainstream movie houses, Hollywood began to take on more controversial subjects and slowly relax its restrictions on sex and violence. In France, critics coined the term "Nouvelle Vague" (New Wave) for the work of young filmmakers inspired by classical Hollywood genres and experimenting with radical narrative devices that rejected both the conservative political establishment and the French cinema's "tradition of quality."

Great Britain had its own New Wave, led by such filmmakers as Karel Reisz, Lindsay Anderson, and Tony Richardson. British cinema had long ignored or marginalized the country's working classes, the very people who made up the bulk of its audience, in favor of more genteel tales set in the middle and upper classes. The change came first with darker, grittier noir films of the post-war period, and then with the emergence of these new artists, who took the techniques and subject matter of the Free Cinema documentary movement they started in the mid 50s and applied them to the work of so-called "angry young man" writers like John Osborne and Alan Sillitoe.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner was one of the key films of the new era. In it we see all the hallmarks of the British New Wave: a preference for location work over studio shooting, casting relative unknowns from the stage, the use of hand-held cameras and minimal lighting, and a story of working-class life taken from an award-winning collection by Sillitoe, one of the key creators of what had become known as "kitchen sink realism."

Not everyone liked where this film took the new realist style, certainly not the cultural establishment. Some critics saw in the tale of a defiant reform school inmate a leftist-anarchist view of the damaging effects of Britain's class system and dismissed it as communist propaganda. Others rejected it on purely cinematic grounds, saying its use of jump cuts, overlapping sound, and speeded-up footage was too derivative of such French New Wave directors such as Truffaut and Godard. On the other hand, many praised its combination of compassion and agitation and the use of flashbacks to contrast gritty realist settings with moments of lyrical grace. They regarded the film's almost casual anti-style as an effective exploration of emotions that avoided sentimentality.

Even the most hostile reviews had to admit admiration for Tom Courtenay, a promising young stage performer making his film debut. His unmannered style and ordinary looks made him one of the most exciting and sought-after actors of this new generation. Courtenay's performance, aided by the greater dimensionality Sillitoe added to the nihilist character he created in his short story, brought an authenticity and honesty to the picture that some found lacking in others of its type. In fact, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner may be seen as a shift away from the angry brutality of the 50s "angry young man" films toward the more aware and considered rebellion of the 1960s. The earlier films were often slammed for, as one critic put it, "presenting us less with the unique quality of individual life than with the broad general outlines of sociological types." Here, Richardson and Courtenay strove to more fully illuminate the character in both rough and tender moments and give rise to a deeper understanding, if not outright sympathy. They also leavened the grimmer realities with welcome humor, as in a ludicrous, self-important television speech by a Tory politician that is no less biting for all the comedy mined from it.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, regardless of one's emotional response to its characters and story or appreciation of its technique, is important as a historical document and a lasting reflection of its time. Removed from the stiff upper-lip English society that weathered World War II (brilliantly but subtly alluded to in scenes of the borstal inmates dismantling old gas masks) but not yet reflective of the Swinging London to come a few years later, the film is a prime example of a brief cinematic "movement." It also marks the end of an era, at least for the artists who gave birth to the New Wave.

Tony Richardson's next project was an iconoclastic but lavish period comedy adapted from an 18th century novel, Tom Jones (1963). He never truly returned to the "kitchen sink" style of film he was so instrumental in creating. Woodfall, the company he founded with John Osborne, continued to produce films into the 1980s, but Richardson and Osborne soon parted ways, and the remaining films considered part of the British New Wave would be handled by new directors such as John Schlesinger, Ken Loach, and Richard Lester. As for "angry young man" Alan Sillitoe (a description he firmly rejected), although prolific until late in life, he was connected to only two more feature films besides Loneliness and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960); one was a war melodrama, Counterpoint (1967), based on his novel The General, and the other was The Ragman's Daughter (1972), from his original screenplay. The latter was more like a homage to the type of film that had such an impact in its time but died off in the late 1960s.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

The trailer advertising The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner noted that Woodfall was the company that released the Richardson-produced Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) and A Taste of Honey (1961), also directed by him. It also touted the earlier films' introductions of Albert Finney and Rita Tushingham and announced "another exciting new face" in Tom Courtenay.

An alternate title for the film, Rebel with a Cause, was a direct reference to Nicholas Ray's drama of teen alienation and wayward behavior, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), starring James Dean.

Posters advertising The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner gave a good indication of its influences and intentions. One was clearly modeled on the style of early 20th century Soviet film posters; the other, for its French release, shows Colin's troubled face behind a chain link fence, echoing an image from Truffaut's Les quatre cents coups/The 400 Blows (1959). Some critics pointed out that The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner ineffectively used techniques from the French film.

Critical reception for The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner was mixed; many reviewers found its style too gimmicky and imitative of French Nouvelle Vague films, especially Truffaut's Les quatre cents coups/The 400 Blows. Other British critics likened it to Communist propaganda. But it remained one of Richardson's favorites throughout his life.

The so-called Kitchen Sink dramas of British stage and screen in the mid-1950s to the early 1960s, of which this is a classic example, were influences on such songwriters as Morrissey (of The Smiths), Gavin Friday (who has a song called "Kitchen Sink Drama" on his album Shag Tobacco), and Marc Almond and David Bell, who also included a song called "Kitchen Sink Drama" on their 1983 Soft Cell album The Art of Falling Apart.

Dialogue from the film is liberally sampled in the Chumbawamba song "Alright Now," and text from Alan Sillitoe's short story appears on the cover of their single "Just Look at Me Now."

The British heavy metal group Iron Maiden used Sillitoe's short story as the basis for a song of the same name on their album Somewhere in Time. The title was also used, though altered a bit, by Scottish indie group Belle and Sebastian and others.

A U.S. band, Ruxton Towers, takes its name from the borstal in the movie.

Rod Blagojevich, the impeached Governor of Illinois, referenced the story when he said, on January 9, 2009: "Let me simply say, I feel like the old Alan Sillitoe short story 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner' ...and that's what this is, by the way, a long-distance run."

The title was referenced in the Chris Marker film La solitude du chanteur de fond (1974), translated as "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Singer" (although some sources list the English title as "The Loneliness of the Background Singer"). Marker's film is a documentary of French singer-actor Yves Montand's concert on behalf of Chilean political refugees.

Various plays on the title have been heard in the comic television series Mystery Science Theater 3000.

In the comedy Run, Fatboy, Run (2007), a news reporter refers to the title in his commentary on a marathon race.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

Tom Courtenay became a star with The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and his next, Billy Liar (1963), but in the years since, he has chosen to work primarily on stage. In fact, he once stated he really didn't care much for film acting: "The film business is absurd. Stars don't last very long. It's much more interesting to be a proper actor." His 1960 professional debut at the Old Vic in Chekhov's The Seagull drew immediate attention, followed by Shakespearian roles. He then took over for Albert Finney in the lead of Billy Liar. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner was his film debut. Courtenay, Finney, and Alan Bates became the leading stars of the "kitchen sink" dramas of the early 60s, although these days Courtney won't discuss the period in much depth. Among his most notable films are Doctor Zhivago (1965), which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination, and The Dresser (1983), in which he co-starred with Finney. Both actors received Best Actor Oscar® nominations for that film. Courtenay was knighted in 2001.

"When I saw The Runner I was surprised just how sloppy and modern it looked." - Tom Courtenay, 1962

About a month before the film was released, Tony Richardson married Vanessa Redgrave, daughter of actor Michael, who stars in this movie as the borstal governor. The marriage produced two daughters, actresses Joely and Natasha Richardson. Richardson and Redgrave were divorced in 1967 over his involvement with French actress Jeanne Moreau. He died in 1991 from AIDS complications. His daughter Natasha, who was once married to producer Robert Fox, brother of James Fox, a cast member in this movie, died of injuries sustained in a ski accident in 2009.

Michael Redgrave was knighted in 1959 in recognition of his distinguished career on stage and film. Among the most notable works in his 40-year film career were his Academy Award-nominated role in Mourning Becomes Electra (1947), which won him the National Board of Review Best Actor prize; his Cannes Festival Best Actor role in The Browning Version (1951); Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938); the thriller Dead of Night (1945), in which he played a ventriloquist taken over by his dummy; and the title character in Uncle Vanya (1963). He was married to actress Rachel Kempson from 1935 until his death in 1985, and their three children Vanessa, Lynn, and Corin all became actors.

German-born Walter Lassally is one of the most prominent cinematographers in the British film industry. He began his career in the early 1950s, and he gained international attention with his work on The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and two other Tony Richardson movies, A Taste of Honey (1961) and Tom Jones (1963). He won an Academy Award for his work on Zorba the Greek (1964).

This was not, as is sometimes stated, the film debut of James Fox, although it is the first time he was credited under this name instead of his birth name, William Fox. His first picture was The Miniver Story (1950) with Greer Garson, when he was 11 years old. He became an important young star of the 1960s: The Servant (1963), The Chase (1966), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), Isadora (1968). After co-starring with Mick Jagger in Performance (1970), a cult hit since its release, Fox left pictures, reportedly suffering from a nervous breakdown. Some have credited it to his drug use during production of that picture, but Fox later said, "My mind was blown long before that." He did note, however, that Performance marked a turning point for him, giving him doubts about his way of life, which was "completely involved in the more bawdy side of the film business." He quit acting for nine years and joined a Christian missionary group. Since returning to the screen, he has had notable roles in A Passage to India (1984), The Remains of the Day (1993), as Mr. Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), and Sherlock Holmes (2009). His brother is actor Edward Fox.

Alec McCowen, who plays Brown, the young House Master who tries to reach Colin through psychology, has been in more than 30 films and dozens of television shows. A classically trained actor, he was in Kenneth Branagh's Henry V (1989), played the chief inspector in Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972), co-starred with Maggie Smith in Travels with My Aunt (1972), and appeared in the Martin Scorsese films The Age of Innocence (1993) and Gangs of New York (2002).

Topsy Jane, who played Colin's girlfriend Audrey, was poised on the brink of stardom after The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. She was slated to appear in two John Schlesinger pictures. She could not do the first, A Kind of Loving (1962), with Alan Bates, because she became pregnant. She then suffered a nervous breakdown, either during or shortly before production on Billy Liar, which also starred Tom Courtenay. The part was given to Julie Christie, who followed it up with roles that catapulted her to international stardom in Doctor Zhivago and her Oscar®-winning Darling (1965), also directed by Schlesinger. Topsy Jane appeared a few more times on television before disappearing from screens big and small in the late 60s. In 2002, a Daily Mail reader replied to a query about the actress's whereabouts with an anecdote about running into her in a cafe in Cornwall, where few people believed her story about having appeared in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner opened in London in September 1962 and a month later in New York.

The film was reissued as part of the British New Wave season at London's Barbican Centre on October 11, 2002, along with A Taste of Honey, directed by Richardson, and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), which he produced.


COLIN (Tom Courtenay): Running's always been a big thing in our family, especially running away from the police. It's hard to understand. All I know is you've got to run, run without knowing why through fields and woods, and the winning post's no end, even though barmy crowds might be cheering themselves daft. That's what the loneliness of the long distance runner feels like.

GOVERNOR (Michael Redgrave): You are here for us to try to make something of you, to turn you into industrious and honest citizens. ... We want you to work hard and play hard--good athletics, sports, inter-house competition. We believe in all that.

COLIN: You know what I'd do if I had the whip hand? I'd get all the coppers, governors, posh whores, army officers and members of parliament and I'd stick them up against this wall and let them have it 'cause that's what they'd like to do to blokes like us.

BROWN (Alec McCowen): Now when you broke into this, um, what was it?
COLIN: Bakery
BROWN: Bakery, yup. What were you thinking about at the time?
COLIN: I wasn't thinking about anything, I was too busy breaking in.

BORSTAL BOY: If he thinks he can make you win that cup, he'll make you his favorite.
COLIN: I'm nobody's favorite.
BOY: If I could run as fast as you, I'd be out of this place.
COLIN: What's the point of scarpering? The best thing to do is be cunning and stay where you are. You see, I'm gonna let them think they've got me house trained, but they never will, the bastards. To get me beat, they'll have to stick a rope around my neck.

BROWN: How do we tackle the basic aggression which these lads obviously feel?
GOVERNOR: By channeling it in the right direction.
BROWN: I was just wondering whether life wasn't a little more complicated than a football match.

TORY POLITICIAN (Robert Percival): I believe our young people have never been infected by the disease of continental existentialism. Unlike the Americans, our cousins in affluence, we have shown ourselves strong in the face of the virus of the state.

GOVERNOR: The Olympics. I still think that's one of the best ideas that civilization ever had.

Compiled by Rob Nixon

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teaser The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

In the early to mid 1950s, British drama and literature took a drastic turn away from the genteel, understated works that, along with the classics, had been the usual theatrical fare, typified by the playwright Terence Rattigan (The Winslow Boy, Separate Tables). A new group of writers, among them John Osborne and Kingsley Amis, rose to prominence with stories generally set among the working classes and the disaffected; these were often set in the industrial Midlands and north of England, and characterized by stark settings, themes of alienation and disillusionment with British society, and a leftist, even anarchistic, political point of view. The first significant work of this kind was Osborne's play Look Back in Anger, which caused a sensation when it premiered in 1956. This very loosely defined group became known as "Angry Young Men" (a term most rejected). As this form of social realism developed across the arts in Great Britain, critics and cultural commentators began to refer to it as Kitchen Sink Drama--frequently a negative term, even as the style grew in popularity.

One of the writers who became associated with this "school" was Alan Sillitoe, a child of the working class of Nottingham, which was then very much a factory city. Largely self-educated and suffering from tuberculosis as a young man, Sillitoe took to writing while living on a meager government pension and published his first book, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in 1958, a novel about a philandering young factory worker that limned the lack of options and opportunities for the working class in post-war Britain. The following year, Sillitoe published a collection of short stories named for the book's most notable story, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. The book was awarded the prestigious Hawthornden Prize for literature, helping greatly to establish Sillitoe and the "Angry Young Man" school in British culture. In his autobiography, Sillitoe said he did not feel "part of the 'angry young man' movement, if such there was, and I can't think of any writers who did, for the label was used by journalists and others who wanted to classify those who wrote in ways they didn't understand or care for--to define so as to defuse."

Corresponding to these changes in theater and literature, British film began to undergo a transformation after the war. The film It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) was an early example of a trend toward depicting the harsh realities of post-war life and the ill effects of grinding poverty. A few years later, a documentary film movement emerged, beginning with a screening of three short films at the National Film Theatre in London on February 5, 1956--Lindsay Anderson's O Dreamland (1953), about an amusement park in Margate, Kent; a documentary about a North London jazz club, Momma Don't Allow (1955), the first film for co-directors Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson, who had just begun his career as a stage and television director the year before; and a documentary-style fiction film, Together (1956) by Lorenza Mazzetti, about a pair of deaf-mutes in London's war-ravaged East End, one of the city's poorest districts. Anderson and Mazzetti drew up a manifesto for what would become known as the Free Cinema movement, touting the filmmakers' "belief in freedom, in the importance of people and the significance of everyday life."

Tony Richardson began his directing career on television with productions for the BBC in the early 50s. In 1955, he founded the English Stage Company, which led to his directing Osborne's Look Back in Anger at London's Royal Court Theatre and later on Broadway. In the next few years, he was one of England's busiest directors, overseeing productions of Shakespeare, Ionesco, and Osborne's next play, The Entertainer, starring Laurence Olivier as a failing music hall performer. In 1959, Richardson and Osborne formed Woodfall Films, largely to retain a degree of artistic control over film adaptations of Osborne's work. Despite his lack of feature film experience, Richardson was given the reins of Look Back in Anger (1959). The film was a landmark, initiating what would become known variously as the British New Wave and the Kitchen Sink film dramas.

Richardson produced another important work in the genre, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), based on Sillitoe's book and directed by Karel Reisz. The film starred Albert Finney, a rising young stage star whose only previous feature film role had been in Richardson's film version of Osborne's The Entertainer (1960).

After a bad experience in Hollywood directing the William Faulkner adaptation Sanctuary (1961) for Fox, Richardson returned to England determined to do films his way, which meant, chief among other things, choosing his own locations to achieve the greatest degree of realism possible. In his film version of Shelagh Delaney's play A Taste of Honey (1961), Richardson took location filming farther than it had ever gone in any major British production. It was also the second time he worked with cinematographer Walter Lassally (after Momma Don't Allow), one of the leading artists of the Free Cinema movement. Together they developed a look and style that would serve them well in their next production.

Richardson acquired the rights to Sillitoe's short story about a working class boy sent to a borstal (reform school) after committing a robbery. Sillitoe was paid 6,000 pounds for the rights and for his work on the screenplay of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962).

In expanding the story for the screen, Sillitoe and Richardson hit on the idea of using extensive flashbacks to contrast the lyrical, poetic feel of the lead character's solitary cross-country runs with memories of the harsh, gritty life in Nottingham that led to his incarceration. The short story's lead character, known only as "Smith" in the book, became the more fully fleshed out Colin Smith of the movie, a somewhat more romanticized and heroically sympathetic figure than his colder and more brutal counterpart in the book.

Richardson snagged Lassally and many of the crew from A Taste of Honey to work on the new picture.

After being forced by co-financiers Warner Brothers to use top names such as Richard Burton, Edith Evans, and Claire Bloom in the film of Look Back in Anger, Richardson preferred to find new young talent like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning's Albert Finney and A Taste of Honey's Rita Tushingham, actors less known by the public and more capable of bringing greater realism to their roles. For Loneliness, he found his star in Tom Courtenay, a young stage actor who had drawn good notices for his work in Shakespeare productions and for taking over (from Albert Finney) the lead in Billy Liar, a play that more or less fit into the kitchen sink category, although it was far more comic than others of that type.

In his less than reliable autobiography, Richardson claims to have cast Courtenay after meeting him at a party, but other sources claim the director made his decision after seeing the actor in a British television play. Courtenay said he was recommended to Richardson by John Osborne and critic Penelope Gilliatt, who had seen him in Chekhov's The Seagull on stage. "I had a ten-minute interview, and 18 months later we made the film." Richardson's book also erroneously claims Courtenay's only previous role had been in The Seagull.

For the part of the borstal governor, Richardson cast Michael Redgrave, a long-respected member of the old school acting establishment who made a nice contrast with the relatively unknown Courtenay as the anti-establishment figure.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

Cinematographer Walter Lassally said that when production began, all the "spade work" had already been done, including all the decisions about where and how to shoot the film and all the technical details of the cinematic approach, because they had figured out most of that on the previous film he made with Tony Richardson, A Taste of Honey (1961). "So we went into Loneliness with relatively little preparation, except for the things that were demanded by the subject itself."

Richardson continued to insist on selecting filming locations, which he'd begun with A Taste of Honey, the first British film to be shot entirely outside a studio. According to cinematographer Walter Lassally, location work was very difficult to sell to British film financiers at the time. "They were afraid that a lack of sunlight would delay the shooting interminably. It was impossible to convince them that for greater realism, it was actually desirable to shoot exteriors without sun."

Much of the filming of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner took place in Surrey at Ruxley Towers, a Victorian mock castle built in the 19th century. From that, the filmmakers came up with the name Ruxton Towers for the borstal.

The romantic idyll on the beach at Skegness was actually filmed at Camber Sands, because it was closer to London.

Cinematographer Walter Lassally brought many of the techniques he had discovered during the previous decade to his work on this film, such as the heightened realism that came from using minimal and primitive lighting instruments dictated by the cramped quarters of his locations, such as the Smith's home.

Richardson later noted that by not being based in a major studio, he was able to hand-pick his crew and get a much more enthusiastic group of colleagues together while still complying with union regulations.

Walter Lassally: "That was the only time I worked with Michael Redgrave, who is a lovely man. Super, he's one of those typical Englishman, you know, super polite and a very good actor, but very low-key. I think he was perfectly cast in that as the headmaster of the borstal."

Richardson's loose filming technique didn't always sit well with Tom Courtenay, even though the result seemed to be a perfect match of acting and directing styles. On the commentary accompanying the British DVD release, the now veteran actor says rather favorably that it sometimes felt like they were shooting a documentary, but in 1962 he noted his surprise, upon first seeing the film, at "just how sloppy and modern it looked" and how he learned on this production that "one of the skills in acting is to take from the director what he can give you that helps, and don't take any notice of what he does or doesn't do that upsets your performance."

The musical score by John Addison incorporated some of the free-form jazz sounds current at the time. The score is most notable, however, for Addison's ironic use of the old hymn "Jerusalem" rendered in various styles.

Real borstal inmates were used as extras in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, primarily in the riot scene. Walter Lassally: "The mix was so good that you couldn't--unless you knew that this is an actor and this is an extra and this is a Borstal boy--you couldn't tell. The only time you could tell was at lunchtime, because they were absolutely ravenous. It looked like in the Borstal they were never properly fed because they were always looking. If you'd finished your dinner and you'd left something on your plate, they'd say, can I have that? ... They participated with great glee in the riot."

The riot was largely improvised. There was one camera tracking up and down the aisles at the edge of the dining hall. Lassally operated a second hand-held camera. His technique was to use the static camera and switch to hand-held at the exact moment everything turns violent or alive with frenetic movement, then cut back to static when the movement is less lively. "The choice, I think, of that moment where you switch from tripod or dolly to hand-held is very important," Lassally said.

Lassally said he and Richardson thought very carefully about the running scenes, each of which has its own special character.

There is a running scene in which the camera catches both the rising sun and the setting moon. Lassally recalled a critic writing of this scene: "'What consultation of ephemerides there must have been to capture that precious moment'...which only goes to show that critics don't know a great deal about how movies are made, because you can't possibly plan a thing like that. It would take forever, and fall well outside your schedule." The shot was actually one of those happy accidents that sometimes happen in filmmaking. Two cameras were set up, one with a wide angle lens and one with a long focus. It was pure luck that the two celestial bodies were caught.

In his autobiography, Long Distance Runner, Richardson said, "I love making all films, but Loneliness, like A Taste of Honey, was one of the great pleasures to make."

In his autobiography, Tony Richardson says his agent, Robin Fox, tried to discourage him from casting his son William Fox in the role of the race competitor from the rival school because he had no talent and it would be disruptive to his life for him to quit his job in a bank. It's not clear if this is entirely accurate because the younger Fox had been working fairly regularly on film and television since 1959. Nevertheless, Richardson gave him the role, which he played under the name James Fox, his professional moniker to this day.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

In England during the late fifties a group of young filmmakers and playwrights began to focus on the negative aspects of the postwar culture in a remarkable creative movement often referred to as the "Kitchen Sink" School of Drama because of its emphasis on the grim realities of working-class people. Among the critically acclaimed works that emerged from this period were Look Back in Anger (1959), written by playwright John Osborne and directed by Tony Richardson; Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), based on the Alan Sillitoe novel and brought to the screen by Karel Reisz; A Kind of Loving (1962), directed by John Schlesinger; and This Sporting Life (1963), from director Lindsay Anderson. In addition to focusing on the economic struggles and lack of career opportunities for the lower class in Britain, these dramas usually featured a male protagonist, someone who was frustrated and fed up with the system, which earned these movies the added moniker of "Angry Young Man" films.

Jimmy Porter (played by Richard Burton), the embittered graduate student who railed against society in Look Back in Anger (1958), was really the first of these angry young British men. But director Richardson would explore an equally rebellious character three years later in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), which was told through the viewpoint of Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay), an uneducated youth who is currently serving time in a reformatory for a robbery. When the film begins, Colin is training for an important cross-country race and we see the events that brought him to this point in his life through flashbacks. The reformatory's director (Michael Redgrave), addressed as "The Governor," believes in the rehabilitative power of sports and promises to reward Colin if he wins the race against the competing public school runners. Colin, on the other hand, views all authority figures with hatred and mistrust. During the final seconds of the cross-country race, when he is clearly in the lead, Colin acts out his contempt for the social order in a public display which humiliates the Governor and destroys his own chances for a better life.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner was adapted for the screen by Alan Sillitoe from his short story and was a departure in style from previous films of this ilk in the way that it combined the starkness of the "Kitchen Sink" dramaswith the open-air, freewheeling approach of the French New Wave filmmakers. Some British critics raised objections to Richardson's technique, citing his use of montage, music and camera tricks as showy and somewhat irritating distractions. Others felt that Colin's character - so hostile and nihilistic in the short story - was softened for the film version. But overall, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner was mostly praised for its authentic settings, emotional honesty and Tom Courtenay's intense performance as Colin. It was the actor's screen debut and won him the British Academy's Most Promising Newcomer award.

In a 1991 interview in the Sunday Times, Courtenay recalled how he came to be cast in the lead role. "I was recommended to him [Richardson] by John Osborne and Penelope Gilliatt who had seen me in The Seagull. I had a 10-minute interview, and 18 months later we made the film." In his autobiography, Long Distance Runner, Richardson would later admit "I love making all films, but Loneliness, like A Taste of Honey, was one of the great pleasures to make."

Producer/Director: Tony Richardson
Screenplay: Alan Sillitoe
Production Design: Ralph W. Brinton
Cinematography: Walter Lassally
Costume Design: Sophie Harris
Film Editing: Antony Gibbs
Original Music: John Addison
Cast: Michael Redgrave (Ruxton Towers Reformatory Governor), Tom Courtenay (Colin Smith), Avis Bunnage (Mrs. Smith), Alec McCowen (Brown), James Bolam (Mike), Joe Robinson (Roach), Julia Foster (Gladys), Frank Finlay (Booking Office Clerk), James Fox (Gunthorpe).

by Jeff Stafford

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teaser The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)

Awards & Honors

Among the honors received by The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner was BAFTA Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles Award to Tom Courtenay

Mar del Plata Film Festival (Argentina) Best Actor Award for Tom Courtenay

The film was rated #61 in the British Film Institute's Top 100 British films


"It is the very anti-style, the skill at applying all kinds of techniques to all kinds of circumstances, that makes me inclined to think Richardson is the finest director working in Britain today. I have seen no better British film since his last [A Taste of Honey (1961)]. - Films and Filming, November 1962

"Speeded-up movement, jump-cuts, bits of business with a hat and a typewriter, the interview with the psychiatrist, even if such borrowings were justifiable they would still have to work themselves in a way they certainly don't here. And anyway, where is Richardson's own style?" - Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1962

"Mr. Sillitoe and the director, Tony Richardson, have thrown out a few general clues. They have gone into clear and vivid details about the depressing life of their boy, and they have laced these into the sequence of the drama in a most artful way as his free-flowing recollections while he is out on lonely morning training runs. ... In all these strongly pictured details, sympathy is directed to the boy, who is played with extraordinary sharpness and nervous energy by Tom Courtenay. On the other hand, they have managed in a very creditable but clearly angled way to expose the masters of the reform school as sadists, incompetents or snobs. ... While this show of compassion may not sit comfortably with those who distrust social agitation and too easy sympathy, it must be said that a splendid presentation is made by Mr. Richardson. His film has a vivid, compelling air of reality, an attractive compression of details and an exciting cinematic flow. He has the all-seeing camera instinct of the new British "documentary" school, which overlays ugliness of background with foreground beauty of character and poetry." - Bosley Crowther, New York Times, October 9, 1962

"Richardson's fluid, imaginative direction is helped considerably via some superb photography by Lassally.... Borstal atmosphere appears to have been captured accurately and so are most of the drab urban scenes." - Variety, October 3, 1962

"Thin, slight, and wiry, Courtenay gave off an oddly effective blend of shuffling shyness and brooding intensity, with a decidedly plain, high-cheekboned face marked with large, sunken eyes and a small, downcast mouth. ... A major part of Courtenay's success as Colin springs from his freshness of character and his lack of mannerism." - Jerry Vermilye, The Great British Films (Citadel press, 1980)

"Chariots of Bile. Even in this softened-up version, Time found the hero 'prolier-than-thou'. Most of the period hallmarks of the British New Wave are paraded here. The disaffected hero treats us to Hoggartian interior monologues and climbs the nearest hill so that we can see the hopeless urban sprawl--Nottingham, in this case--laid out like his future. He gets the obligatory lyrical day off, a bracing trip to Skegness. Courting couples snog beside the barbed wire, and there's no shortage of editing between lads being flogged and choirs singing 'Jerusalem'. The general thrust is that Britain provides no sustenance for the working class soul, and consumerism spearheaded by telly comes in for some stick. It all seems a long time ago." - Brian Case, Time Out Film Guide, 2000

"The counter-Hollywood bloody-mindedness packs a knockout punch." - Peter Bradshaw, Guardian, October 2002

"The film, with its grim Nottingham setting and working class milieu, must have seemed fresh in its day. Now, though, it looks and sounds like a relic from a bygone era. Still compelling, however, is Tom Courtenay's powerful central performance as the film's defiant hero, Colin Smith--could his name be any prolier? ... Courtenay is superb as the cunning and rebellious Colin, while the talented supporting cast is peppered with familiar faces, including a young John Thaw." - Stephen Applebaum, BBC film site, Oct 4, 2002

by Rob Nixon

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