Dir: Lindsay Anderson, 1968


British cinema is a catalogue of gritty realism and rebellion that Hollywood can seldom bring to the screen.

With a history of class and establishment, Britain excels in having something to rail against and it’s, often, justified.

Lindsay Anderson directs David Sherwin’s script with experience, gained as a victim of the elitist attitude that is so frequently found in the education system.

Arriving back at a public school for the new term, three students deliberately rile and irritate the Whips in an act of defiance to the system.

After a caning for their anarchic attitude, the trio, Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell), Wallace (Richard Warwick) and Johnny (David Wood), find a cache of weapons and open fire on the school.

The last shot of the film, ends with the title if….

Possibly Anderson’s most famous film, if…. is an blood boiling, anger of a tale that is a serious highlight into an archaic institution that is badly needed of an overhaul.

Lindsay Anderson was gay and a former pupil of such an education, and uses his experience to drive the movie.

A surreal satire, if…. successfully parodies the antiquated brutality of elitism and snobbery that is, still, so prevalent in British society.

Fantastical in it’s nature, Anderson directs the dream-like tale with heavy-handedness, playing up the ludicrousness of the proceedings with lashings of black comedy.

Interestingly, the film frequently switches between colour and black and white. Despite several “experts” pontificating as to the actual meaning of such a tactic, the truth is far less exciting; the production ran out of money and could only afford black and white film stock. This is a wonderful example of people talking shit and not being as clever as they think they are.

There is much debate concerning the ambiguous ending; did it happen or was it fantasy? Is the film theoretical? The fact is there isn’t a right or wrong answer as film is subjective.

Looking like a young Martin Clunes, Malcolm McDowell stars in his debut film as the unofficial leader of the trio, Mick Travis. Refusing to adhere to the school’s ridiculous ways and oppression, Travis is a symbol of rebellion and anarchy; the tonic for Britain’s outdated and stuffy ways. Cocky and confident, McDowell plays Travis as a likeable character that is strong and sturdy, yet with a vulnerability that the Whips use to their advantage.

The stunningly beautiful Christine Noonan plays The Girl, exuding sultry and sexiness by the barrel load. It’s a shame that Noonan wasn’t given more roles or had more exposure. Sadly, the actress passed away in 2003, succumbing to cancer at the relatively young age of only 53.

if…. is such an angry film that you can’t help but feel enraged at the behaviour of the Whips which comes to little more than bullying and sexual harrasment. Unforgiveably, this treatment is allowed to continue, all under the guise of tradition.

Shockingly, the film is quite prophetic with a number of students taking firearms to school and causing a massacre. Dunblane and Columbine are two, horrific and tragic, examples.

With echoes of Jean Vigo’s 1933 French classic, Zero de conduite (Zero For Conduct), Anderson’s film is still as fresh and funny as it was nearly fifty years ago and has lost none of its power.

Brilliant viewing.


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