The best film ever made about school life; the rituals, the drudgery, the humiliation and ultimately the excitement. Anderson's masterpiece works on a number of levels, not least as one of the cinema's great pieces of surrealism. It's a state of the nation movie, a fantasy, an account of public school life told with an almost documentary-like precision and it's as fresh today as it was when it first appeared, (hard to believe that was almost 40 years ago or that Malcom McDowell was ever this young).
Using Jean Vigo's "Zero De Conduite" as a template, (it's not a remake), Anderson's movie is quintessentially youthful and so accurately does it depict its milieu as to appear almost arrogant. He handles revolution with a grandstanding authority and homosexual, (and heterosexual), schoolboy yearning more romantically than any other film I can think of, (Wallace's display in the gymnasium as blonde, beautiful, tousle-haired Bobby Phillips looks on is blissfully homo-erotic), and he does this with a masterly control of the medium. (His comments about financial restraints dictating the fluctuations between black-and-white and colour photography may well be true but the choices seem inspired, nevertheless and the great Miroslav Ondricek's camera-work is superb).
He was also a great actor's director, often working with many of the same actors both in theatre and in cinema and he extracts marvellous performances from the likes of Arthur Lowe, Peter Jeffrey, Mona Washborne and Geoffrey Chater representing the Establishment as well as pitch-perfect performances from David Wood, Richard Warwick, Rupert Webster, Robert Swann and Hugh Thomas, all new to cinema, as the students.
The film made Malcom McDowell a star and for a few short years, (here, in "O Lucky Man", as Alex in "A Clockwork Orange"), that star burned brightly before he sold out to Hollywood and his career began to flounder in a series of mediocre American movies, reaching a nadir with "Caligula". But his performance as Mick Travis is a marvel and both it and the film that first encapsulated it remain among the finest achievements in British cinema.