O Lucky Man 1973

This is the second part of director Lindsay Anderson’s trilogy of films about British society that began with If and ended with Brit­annia Hospital. More anarchic than If in its struc­ture, and less obvi­ously satir­ical in inten­tion than Brit­annia Hospital, it shows the strongest influ­ence of the European absurdist tradi­tions that coloured Anderson’s earliest films like The White Bus.

Origin­ating with an idea for a film from Malcolm McDowell about his early career as a coffee salesman, the first script devel­op­ment was by David Sherwin who wrote If. He was forced to drop out and Anderson himself took over, pushing the original idea in a delib­er­ately extreme direction.

Ostens­ibly a John Bunyan-like critique of capit­alism, it ended as a sprawling three-hour ‘road movie’, a picar­esque Candide story in which the central char­acter gets to encounter different facets of British (i.e. capit­alist) society – the Military, the Church, Big Busi­ness, the Judi­cial System and so on.

Anderson cast the same actors in different recur­ring roles to emphasise their archetypal qual­ities. Alan Price and his band perform songs and act as Brech­tian comment­ators on the story while a consistent strain of surrealism stops it all from getting too earnest. It’s a strongly indi­vidu­al­istic film from a very indi­vidual director and like­able for just those qualities.

Genre and style: shifting the goal posts

The epis­odic nature of this movie means that it is constantly shifting its tone and style – some­times to disturbing effect. The first part of this sequence in which Mick (McDowell) decides to sell himself for medical exper­i­ment­a­tion is quite broad and gentle in finding its targets; a dig at the presump­tion of science.

When Mick actu­ally sees the evid­ence with his own eyes however, it teeters over the edge of comedy and is genu­inely quite shocking for a moment or two. It is these strange moments throughout the film, some­times uncom­fort­able and some­times quite beau­tiful,  that distin­guish it and lift it above the ordinary.

Anderson picked up the Franken­stein trope again in Brit­annia Hospital which features the same char­ac­ters. In that film, Mick doesn’t escape his fate so lightly.

David Clough ©2011

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