Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Clockwork Orange, A (1971)

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Main image of Clockwork Orange, A (1971)
35mm, colour, 136 mins
DirectorStanley Kubrick
Production CompaniesWarner Bros, Polaris Productions, Hawk Films
ProducerStanley Kubrick
ScreenplayStanley Kubrick
Original novelAnthony Burgess
PhotographyJohn Alcott

Cast: Malcolm McDowell (Alex DeLarge); Patrick Magee (Frank Alexander); Michael Bates (chief guard); Warren Clarke (Dim); Adrienne Corri (Mrs Alexander); Carl Duering (Dr Brodsky); Miriam Karlin (cat lady)

Show full cast and credits

A pathologically violent teenager is arrested after committing murder, and offered the chance of being cured by a targeted form of brainwashing. But the 'Ludovico Technique' has a deeply unwelcome side-effect...

Show full synopsis

Though one of the most prolific novelists of his or any other generation, Anthony Burgess ruefully acknowledged that he would always be best known for A Clockwork Orange, the 1962 novel that brilliantly fused increasing concern about the consequences of individual freedom with Cold War paranoia. A virtuoso linguistic firework display, its first-person narrative is delivered in 'Nadsat', a slangy blend of English and Russian that sounds as though it comes from an imaginary future state where the two cultures have merged.

The novel was first optioned by Andy Warhol (who saw it as a vehicle for Mick Jagger), but it was eventually filmed by Stanley Kubrick in 1971. Although considerably older than the 15-year-old protagonist Alex, Malcolm McDowell was perfectly cast, and went on to give one of the most iconic performances of the decade. His swaggering charisma and magnetic appeal created a profoundly ambivalent effect: even when he commits the most unforgivable atrocities, we're perversely inclined to root for him, as he's so much more compelling than the supporting cast of whinging victims and brutish or pretentious authority figures.

The central argument is that individual freedom should be precisely that, even if it means freedom to assault, rape and murder. Alex's behaviour is morally abhorrent, but less so than what is done to him by government scientists. The so-called 'Ludovico technique' successfully suppresses his violent impulses, but also destroys his love of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, his one real link with human civilisation. Remove that, Burgess and Kubrick argue, and you might as well be breeding a new race of animals. However, Burgess strongly disapproved of Kubrick's decision to stop one chapter short of the original ending, where he hinted that Alex might redeem himself of his own accord. In Kubrick's more pessimistic version, Alex effectively learns nothing.

A Clockwork Orange was one of the most violent and sexually graphic films ever to be passed uncut by the British Board of Film Censors, a fact highlighted by most of the media coverage. In the hope that this would make him appear to avoid exploiting the scandal, Kubrick restricted the film to a single London cinema before sanctioning a general release a year later. But this did nothing to stem the controversy, and when Kubrick received anonymous death threats, he asked Warner Bros to withdraw the film from Britain, where it would remain legally unavailable until 2000.

Michael Brooke

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Opening scene (3:00)
2. Ludovico's Technique (2:43)
Herostratus (1967)
Alcott, John (1931-1986)
Clarke, Warren (1947-)
Corri, Adrienne (1931-)
Kubrick, Stanley (1928-1999)
Magee, Patrick (1922-1982)
McDowell, Malcolm (1943-)
Science Fiction
Sex and Violence in the 1970s
Teen Terrors On Film