This surrealistic story of schoolboy revolt was something of a departure for director Lindsay Anderson, but he succeeded in capturing the absurdities of British public school life and invested the satire with an abundance of venom.
When it was released in 1968, Anderson’s bellow of righteous outrage was described as “a hand grenade of a film”.
Some critics and many politicians were made thoroughly queasy at its apparent message of total, uncompromising revolution. The fact that, across the Channel, the student population was busy building barricades can’t have helped . . .
Mick Travis is a rebellious sixth former at an authoritarian English public school where he and his friends are seen as a subversive element by the teachers and “whips”. A particularly brutal caning triggers a violent showdown. Malcolm McDowell gives a blistering performance in a key film from British film history.
The movie started off in colour then went black and white at one point – it wasn’t (as some mistakenly thought) a deep and meaningful artistic statement on the meaning of celluloid as an art form, but simply that the producers ran out of cash and couldn’t afford to continue using colour film.
The fascinating structure of the film leaves you unsure whether the fantastically violent final reel is for real or an extension of the schoolboy anarchist’s fervid imagination. Whichever, it is a deliciously subversive piece of filmmaking which drips with wit and venom.
If stands as Britain’s most significant contribution to the counter-cultural cycle of late sixties cinema. Anderson claimed it was never intended as a reflection of student unrest, but the story chimed perfectly with the spirit of ’68.