Famously, Lindsay Anderson's 1968 classic came out bang on time for the workers' and students' revolts across Europe at the end of that tumultuous decade. That alone implies a scope broader than its acutely realised British public school setting. But it stretches further still, drawing on Jean Vigo's 1933 classroom classic Zéro De Conduite, absurdist humour and poetic stylisations to match its marvellously musty English realism.
The plot pivots on three quaintly countercultural teenagers' struggles with their school's hierarchies and arcane rituals. After one "get your hair cut" too many, Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) and his posse start off by using old WWII weapons to take pot shots at the school tea urn. What follows is almost Pythonesque, a literal and allegorical attack on class conventions and the systems of power and oppression. Much of its potency is due to the way former documentarian Anderson manages to blend European surrealism into the film's near-documentary style, successfully highlighting the students' frustrations by setting their fantasies against cold-shower reality.
If.... hasn't aged well and has become a time-piece curio of the turbulent late `60s. But in a modern world where schoolboys actually do go on killing sprees, that's probably a good thing.