It is difficult to conjure up much sympathy for the young ‘hero’ who comes out as a disturbed young layabout (he seems thoroughly to deserve his fate of landing in Borstal, the corrective establishment for British juve delinquents). Yet the performance of Tom Courtenay and the imaginative, if sometimes overfussy, direction of Tony Richardson, plus some standout lensing by Walter Lassally makes this a worthwhile pic.
Alan Sillitoe has written a sound screenplay for his own short story. Though there are obvious signs of padding, it remains a thoroughly professional job. The flashback technique is used ingeniously, though perhaps overmuch.
Courtenay plays a young man from an unhappy home in the Midlands. Apparently on the ground that the world owes him a living, he seems not interested in work and, inevitably drifts into petty crime and gets sent to Borstal.
He is resentful about ‘the system’ and takes a strange way of getting back at it. A natural born runner (‘we had plenty of practice in running away from the police in our family,’ he says bitterly), he is selected to represent Borstal in a long distance race against a public school team. It is the ambition of the governor (Michael Redgrave) to win the cup for Borstal.
Michael Redgrave as the rather pompous, stuffy governor who, to Courtenay’s jaundiced eye, represents the system, brings his polished touch to a role that could have become irritating.