REVIEW: IF… / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: LINDSAY ANDERSON / SCREENPLAY: DAVID SHERWIN / STARRING: MALCOLM MCDOWELL, DAVID WOOD, RICHARD WARWICK, CHRISTINE NOONAN / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 9TH
If… is a beautifully crafted, if not often shocking, British classic. Set in a traditional boys’ boarding school, the story centres on Mick Travis (McDowell) and two of his pals as they look to rebel against the status quo of pompous, callous prefects and blasé teachers who regurgitate the same, sterile tripe year after year. The charismatic Travis wishes to stage a revolution, and his impassioned uprising pushes things forward towards a chilling, impactful climax.
Anderson's film, his first in a trilogy of Mick Travis-centred efforts, is full of stiff upper lips, razor-sharp side-partings, epic sideburns, and sticking it to the man. The film often plays in a surreal, trippy way, switching to black and white at a moment’s notice, then flipping back to colour. We’re shown a world that is regimented by cold showers and, as one of the film’s dastardly prefects states, homosexual flirtatiousness. Part social commentary, part black comedy, but all entertainment, If… can’t help but grab your attention from the get-go. And from there on out, the film doesn’t let you go until it’s finished with you.
In terms of the performances, Malcolm McDowell is simply fantastic as Travis, the boy who is looking to break free from the chains of the old establishment, go against the grain, and who wants to expand his horizons. So the story goes, it was his turn here that landed McDowell the Alex gig in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and it’s easy to see why. Charming, elegant, intelligent but with clear unsavoury tendencies, McDowell’s turn as Mick Travis has you rooting for him, even at the times when you likely shouldn’t be. The actor is also helped out by some equally brilliant performances from the principal cast and, more importantly, the supporting cast, which is even more remarkable when so many of those involved were so young. All this does is add to the authenticity of the film and give it extra gravitas.
A surreal, spellbinding tale, If… is a brave movie that is laced in commentary, risk, and passion. So revolutionary and impressive was the film on its 1968 release, it actually went on to win the 1969 Palme d’Or. Yes, it may have rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way upon its initial release, but maybe that’s because there’s a lot of heart and truth at the core of If…, holding it together and constantly shining through. It also has to be said that this release is additionally helped out by the now-customary boatload of extras that Eureka are putting out with their Masters of Cinema series, most interesting of which is the commentary from star McDowell and film historian David Robinson. When all is said and done, If… is simply a must-have for fans of British cinema.
Extras: Commentary with David Robinson and Malcolm McDowell / Three short films by Lindsay Anderson / Extensive interviews with cast and crew / Two trailers / 56-page booklet