Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The / Rebel With a Cause (1962)

Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The / Rebel With a Cause (1962)

“It pays to play the governor’s game here.”

A working-class British teenager (Tom Courtenay) serving time in a reformatory is encouraged by its director (Michael Redgrave) to develop his passion for long-distance running, and spends time during his runs reflecting back on the troubled past that led him to his incarceration.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Class Relations
  • Flashback Films
  • Juvenile Delinquents
  • Michael Redgrave Films
  • Tom Courtenay Films
  • Tony Richardson Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is less than enamored with this “Kitchen Sink Drama” by director Tony Richardson — based on Alan Sillitoe’s short story — which portray’s Courtenay’s Colin Smith as “one of the many angry men of the British working-class cinema of the day.”

Peary points out that we see yet “another bleak view… of British working-class society” in, for instance, Smith’s resentment of “his shrewish mother (Avis Bunnage) frittering away his dead father’s insurance money, then kicking him out until he could contribute some money himself.”

At least in addition to reflecting back on “his dreary home life” and “being beaten by a policeman,” we’re also shown Smith thinking about “his moments of escape with his girlfriend” (Topsy Jane):

With that said, I wish we were given more context about how and why Courtenay turns to a life of petty crime; as Peary writes, “Smith’s reasons for his defiance should be clearer and have to do with his developing an understanding of society and authority.” However, I disagree with Peary’s assertion that “we have to understand better why he relates the governor to his past life” — to me, it’s crystal clear that Redgrave’s “pompous, paternalistic” arrogance epitomizes everything Smith loathes about the unfair class system in Britain.

While this is not a film I relish revisiting — I hadn’t seen it since being introduced to it years ago in a Film Appreciation class in college — I believe it should be viewed once simply for its relevance in cinematic history. Watch for James Fox in his first credited role as Courtenay’s running rival:

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Tom Courtenay as Colin Smith
  • Walter Lassally’s fine location shooting and cinematography

Must See?
Yes, once, for its historical relevance.


  • Historically Relevant


2 thoughts on “Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The / Rebel With a Cause (1962)

  1. First viewing (10/18/20). A once-must, for its place in cinema history.

    This film is a cut-above in the British ‘kitchen sink’ genre thanks to convincing performances, Richardson’s respect for traditional storytelling and – particularly – DP Walter Lassally’s imaginative but un-showy way of keeping the story interesting visually. (If the film is experimental at all, it’s by way of Antony Gibbs’ editing which still manages to root the film sufficiently in reality.)

    If the film had been delivered in a less-artistic way, it could have been more of a dreary watch but those putting it together found a way to make it more compelling.

    I took some issue with the way the film ends. I think I understand why its ending was chosen but, on thinking about it, I’m not sure its conclusion made the film more powerful – even if it was in keeping with the general spirit of the times. It doesn’t feel organized or completely earned.

    However, in its own way, a similar ending would be employed by Lindsay Anderson 5 or 6 years later for his film ‘…if’ (which was something of an extreme in that film’s case but at least, on some level, it seemed to make more intellectual sense).

  2. Peary is also dissatisfied with the ending. He notes:


    “While it hurts the governor’s pride and (temporarily) teaches him not to exploit the young inmates, it will probably ruin Smith’s chances of a better life (he could have been a professional runner). I’d rather see him escape during the race than just quit with victory in sight.”

    I am okay with the ending, but can see your points as well.

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