In his memorable adaptation of Alan Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runer (1962), Tony Richardson blended the best of English kitchen-sink realism with new wave cinema. An unmistakable, class-conscious social drama, it is also distinctly 1960s in its suspicion towards the new welfare and to any form of authority. More crucially, the film manages to channel all of its complex content through the personal experience of its protagonist - Tom Courtenay as a charismatic,working class rebel with a cause. Richardson uses the bustling freedom of new wave techniques
like subjective (sound-)editing and a fluent associative flashback
structure to construct a poetic realism from the bleak but beautiful cinematography.
It all cumulates in a powerful ending that ensures that the poetic and social
impact of this film outlives its particular historical context
It was hard to understand, and all I knew was that you had to run, run, run without knowing why you were running, but on you went through fields you didn’t understand and into woods that made you afraid, over hills without knowing you’d been up and down, and shooting across streams that would have cut the heart out of you had you fallen into them. And the winning post was no end to it, even though crowds might be cheering you in, because on you had to go before you got your breath back, and the only time you stopped really was when you tripped over a tree trunk and broke your neck or fell into a disused well and stayed dead in the darkness forever.
Alan Sillitoe, “The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner”
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.