Emotional and physical abuse in the home combine with stifling class conditions. This makes for a thoroughly dissatisfying existence for a young man in 1962's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Director Tony Richardson and writer Alan Stillitoe take the isolation and long term commitment of the athlete referenced in the title to make an occasionally too broad but mostly effective portrait of a misfit working class youth in early 60s Britain.
Tom Courtenay stars as Colin Smith, constantly smouldering, dealing with a mother (Avis Bunnage), constantly raging, and a recently deceased father. Most of his home life is shown in flashbacks between scenes of Smith in a juvenile detention centre where he's become a favourite of the governor (Michael Redgrave). The governor hopes Smith will bring glory to the reformatory by defeating boys from a boarding school in a foot race.
The attitude of the film is far from ambiguous thanks to an almost relentless ironic use of "Jerusalem" in the score. It's one of several elements, which also include a barrage of montages of shallow government officials and store windows crammed with enticing merchandise, that squarely put the viewer in Smith's perspective. It's not hard to see why he seems to want to rebel against the whole world.
In fact, the message of the film is so unified as to be a bit tiring. I live in a U.S. with a massive homeless problem right now, making it a little hard to sympathise with the problems inherent in a welfare state, so the more nuanced argument in a film like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a little more effective for me. But Courtenay gives a nicely charged performance and his character ultimately presents another effective example of disaffected 50s and 60s youth. Another rebel without a cause, the vulnerability of youth is effectively combined with the thin messaging of authorities and parents to portray the frailty and volatility of Smith's life.