The 100 best British films

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Time Out counts down the best British films, as chosen by the film industry

By Dave Calhoun, Tom Huddleston and David Jenkins, with Derek Adams, Geoff Andrew, Adam Lee Davies, Gareth Evans, Paul Fairclough and Wally Hammond. Explore the individual top tens of every contributor.

9

If… (1968)

Dir Lindsay Anderson (Malcolm McDowell, David Wood, Richard Warwick)

Be a man, my son

A portrait of life in an English, male boarding school may sound niche and conservative, but Lindsay Anderson’s second feature after ‘This Sporting Life’ was one of the most radical British films of the 1960s – and the first of three films from that decade to enter our top ten.

The mischievous face of Malcolm McDowell as rebellious sixth-former Mick Travis is, in retrospect, an obvious predecessor of his character in ‘A Clockwork Orange’, not least when he iconically appears wearing a fedora and with a scarf wrapped around his face to conceal a moustache. From there, we discover that Travis and his two friends are thorns in the side of their rigid boarding house, where their peers exercise brutal authority purely because of their ties or badges – or, as Travis puts it, ‘That bit of fluff on your tit’.

Many scenes stick in the mind, most of them tinged with a strange comedy. There’s the master who rides a bike into class; the headmaster who opens a drawer to reveal a teacher; Travis’s wrestle with a waitress at a local café… But these more surreal scenes aside, the film’s success is down to its detail: Sherwin and Anderson well knew the world they were satirising, which is why the rituals, slang and behaviour all ring so disturbingly true. That said, the film’s knock-out scene is a rousing, shocking, guns-blazing climax that’s only credible as glorious wish-fulfilment.

The film’s attack on tradition and authority undoubtedly encapsulated and tapped into the counter-cultural mood of the time ­– but its themes of community, leadership, oppression and rebellion, as well as its edge of comic surrealism and weird fantasy, continue to endure more than forty years later. DC

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