Shown in the majestic surrounds of Queen’s University’s Great Hall on Thursday night, Lindsay Anderson’s If…. is a dark satire of public schooling set in the late 1960’s.
Here’s what Kelan Headley thought of it…
A counterculture milestone in British cinema, it takes a subversive swipe at convention, tradition and the British establishment.
If…. covers a term at a fictional boarding school. The school is operated with a pompous formality, strictly enforced by the teachers and senior students. The whips (a select group of seniors) are given privilege over the juniors, who are forced into servitude, and even other seniors. This includes rebellious sixth former Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell). Travis and his mates Johnny and Wallace indulge in escapist exploits and pay little attention to rules or regulations. They are seen as an unruly element and the whips and headmaster try to make them conform to the school’s ideals. However, their individuality can’t be suppressed and when pushed, Mick reacts an a suitably defiant fashion.
If…. has surrealist elements throughout. Sections of the film are shot in a stylised black and white – merely an aesthetic choice, but one that treads the line of fantasy and brings certain latter events into question. If…. was Malcolm McDowell’s screen debut and its a fantastic showing from him. It was on the strength of If…. that McDowell was cast as Alex DeLarge in Stanley Kubrick’sA Clockwork Orange and his portrayal of Mick Travis influenced the equally unconventional Alex. Mick Travis would return as part of an informal trilogy; 1973’s Oh Lucky Man! and 1982’s Britannia Hospital, both directed by Anderson and starring McDowell, but with a tenuous connection to If….
If…. is a sharp, humorous satire which has lost none of its relevance to time. If you’ve been a teenager and been through a regimented system, chances are If…. will strike a chord.