Reviews

O Lucky Man!

4

Riffing on his pre-acting days as a roving coffee-hawker, Malcolm McDowell (and If…. writer David Sherwin) crafted this perky, peculiar odyssey through a Britain slowly stirring from a post-imperialist hangover – and catching its tatty, conflicted image in the mirror. “Britain’s greatest post-war director” (says McDowell in the gloriously luvvyish doc). Lindsay Anderson tracks saucer-eyed innocent Mick Travis through a series of themed chapters spanning the life spectrum: work, crime, punishment, sin, sex, violence, death, military ethics, medical research… Everything but the soapy kitchen-sink tragi-drama served up by so many of Anderson’s contemporaries. Travis spies the establishment at play during a Masonic orgy (“Chocolate sandwich!”), is reeled in by lonely Milfs and shacks up with a corrupt mogul’s dippy daughter (a spunky young Helen Mirren). Later, he trespasses into the hands of army bureaucrats who subject him to a very British torture scene – interrupted by the tea lady (“Custard creams? Wafers?”), before getting banged up for arms-dealing and, finally, finding – and rejecting – God…

With his Pythonesque nose for sly surrealism, Anderson plays O Lucky Man! as a cynicism-scorched fairytale; an acid satire on how good intentions are slowly strangled by a hostile, hypocritical world. Early on, Travis provides the benchmark sales-grin for his coffee-factory colleagues. By the end, he responds to a request for a smile with, “What is there to smile about?” This is Anderson the social critic, rejecting the progressive political mood of the early ’70s and jabbing at the gloomy realities: industrial conflict, electricity rationing, echoes of wartime austerity...

But thanks to McDowell’s chirpy magnetism, Alan Price’s sly, action-mirroring music and writer Sherwin’s barbed wit (all evident on the sparky, three-way multi-commentary), O Lucky Man! feels fresh, funny and relevant: a poetic polemic on a downbeat UK thrashing to stay afloat in a craven new world of economic volatility. “Revolution is the opium of the intellectuals!” blares a screen-filling smear of graffiti half-way through. We’re a long way from the idealism of If…. here…

 

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