Katell Quillévéré's family-based drama follows Suzanne, a teenage mother who falls for a gangster
A surreal take on the darker side of British public school life, which involves a band of self-styled 'Crusaders' rebelling against the brutality of their institution.
Directed by Lindsay Anderson, a prime mover of British New Wave Cinema, from a scalding script by ex-public schoolboy David Sherwin, If.... proves to be something of a universal fantasy. An anarchic trio of disgruntled public schoolboys (Malcolm McDowell, David Wood and Richard Warwick) - plus one girlfriend (Christine Noonan) and a younger pupil (Rupert Webster) - rebel against their brutal establishment peers, before literally blasting their way through staff and sixth formers.
Here, the school (actually Cheltenham College), with its chapel and firing range, serves as a metaphor for an archaic, conservative Britain. Fittingly (although the director always denied this was deliberate) the film does appear to echo political uprisings taking place the year it was made, in Paris, Prague, and the US. Sporting less of a plot than a series of crazily inventive, titled vignettes (comparable to those from Jean Vigo's 1933 film Zero De Conduite, which partly inspired the filmmakers), If.... blends English surrealism with a near-documentary style realism to astonishing effect.
The use of monochrome cut into what is essentially a colour film is both a result of budget limitations, and a device to shock the complacent viewer. Anderson believed there should be no aesthetic distinction between fantasy and reality. If.... was also Malcolm McDowell's feature debut. His portrayal of the rebellious Mick Travis (wearing an expression somewhere between Archangel and Antichrist) was almost a dry run for his Alex DeLarge in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange three years later. McDowell also considers it his "finest film." He may be right.
In a nutshell: A seminal piece of cinema and amongst the greatest British films of the post-war years, with an absolutely knock out performance from Malcolm McDowell in his feature debut.
By Ali Catterall
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