The final New Wave kitchen sinker from Woodfall Films - system stirrers of Saturday Night And Sunday Morning - Tony Richardson's 1962 borstal drama still strains at the leash after all these years. By their very nature, reissues invite reappraisals, and what was once an underdog now emerges not just as a supremely entertaining winner but one of the key British films.
Elaborating on Alan Sillitoe's short story, the movie bustles Tom Courtenay's terse loner Colin Smith into correctional facility Ruxton Towers. Smith's jagged interaction with both the screws and his fellow inmates immediately circles him as an antisocial liability, but when Michael Redgrave's priggish governor enters Ruxton into a cross-country contest with a public school, Smith's athletic prowess wins him some unexpected freedom.
In between dynamic running sequences (lensed with vitality by Walter Lassally), flashbacks slowly dripfeed details of Smith's background, a grim-oop-North deadend of charred dreams and petty crime. And with race-day nearing and Smith a dead-cert, the internal simmer begins to overboil, and manifests itself in a quite extraordinary act of defiance.
Despite some black wit, bitter irony's the flavour here - but the aftertaste is exhilarating thanks to Courtenay's surly magnetism and a climax guaranteed to have you both punching the air and rolling your eyes. Ultimately, Richardson's pot-shots at consumerism and class have lost some urgency, but the nihilistic, punky buzz packs an immortal wallop. Classic.