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Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The (1962)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

A young man runs down a country road. He tells us that running has always been a big thing in his family, especially running from the police.

Colin is taken to Ruxton Towers borstal, where he is quickly marked out as a troublemaker. The Governor lectures the boys about Ruxton, emphasising sport and Ruxton's house system. He tells a new housemaster with modern ideas, Brown, about his pride that a public school has agreed to compete against them in athletics.

Brown invites Colin to talk about his motivations and tries out his psychological theories on him by using word association games. Colin is contemptuous of Brown's patronising manner. Colin's sporting talent interests the Governor.

Colin remembers his family home in Nottingham a few months previously. His father is dying of cancer. Colin meets his friend Mike and they steal a car. They offer two girls, Audrey and Janice, a ride and they go to the hills above the city. When Colin returns home he finds that his father has died.

Back at the borstal Colin beats the trustee, Stacey, in a cross-country race. Stacey, realising that his position with the Governor has been lost, tries to beat up Colin. In the workshop Colin tells his friends that he'll make the authorities think he's housetrained, but they'll never get him. The Governor escorts visitors around and it is obvious that Colin is now his favourite.

After Colin's father's funeral he and his mother claim insurance from the father's employer and show their contempt for the bosses. His mother's new boyfriend comes to the house and immediately clashes with Colin.

Stacey escapes from the borstal. As the news gets out the boys riot in the refectory. The Governor decides to ignore the trouble so nothing affects the upcoming sports day. A planned concert, complete with bird impressionist and hymn singers, goes ahead. As the boys sing 'Jerusalem', Stacey is recaptured and beaten by warders. Colin is now given special treatment and allowed to have training runs outside the gates unsupervised.

His mother goes on a shopping spree with the insurance money. Her 'fancy man' acquires a new TV but Colin goes to his father's room where he burns a pound note from his share of the money. He and Mike take the girls to Skegness, Colin and Audrey having now started a relationship. They book in to a boarding house as a married couple. On the beach Colin tells Audrey that he was always trying to get lost when he was a kid but soon learnt you can't get lost. All of them are reluctant to go back to Nottingham.

Back home Colin and Mike listen to a politician on TV talking about the triumph of contemporary Britain. They turn the sound down and laugh at the image. The entrance of the 'fancy man' sparks a fight between him and Colin. He and Mike rob a bakery, stealing a cash box. Colin hides the money in the end of a drainpipe. Next morning the police wake him up, but he and his mother treat them with contempt. The detective returns in a rainstorm and the money comes out of the drainpipe as he talks to Colin. Colin runs away.

He meets Mike in the borstal, sent down for assaulting a policeman. Hearing about Colin's running he asks him which side he is on. The day of the sports competition arrives. Colin's main public school rival in the race, Gunthorpe, shakes his hand and wishes him luck. He takes an early lead but Colin overtakes and surges ahead. As he runs he remembers incidents and conversations from his home life and time in borstal. Colin slows down and then pulls up within sight of the finishing line, allowing Gunthorpe to beat him.

Later, Colin is back in the workshop. The Governor walks past and refuses to acknowledge him.