Classic British Films #2: A Clockwork Orange (1971)

A Clockwork Orange is a very famous, although somewhat controversial, classic British film. It was released in 1971, but Warner Bros. withdrew it from British distribution until 2000 when it was re-released.

A Clockwork Orange, directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the book by Anthony Burgess, is set in a futuristic Britain, with Alex DeLarge (played by Malcolm McDowell) as the leader of his gang of ‘droogs’ called Dim, Georgie and Pete. They fill most of their time with violence, rape and theft. In the book, it begins when Alex is 15, but in the film he is 17/18 years old. McDowell was 27 when he played the role. When Alex is sent to prison after an incident, he finds a volunteer programme which gives him the opportunity to leave prison early. However, perhaps this opportunity will cause more damage than good to Alex when he is released.

Although Malcolm McDowell is clearly a lot older than the teenager he is playing, he is a brilliant actor who manages to bring both a charm and creepiness to the role. He is defiantly the backbone of the film, and ultimately the entire film is about him, and is told through his narration. McDowell manages to show Alex in a varied state of emotions over the years that follow, and can switch from making you feel contempt to empathy for the character very quickly. The rest of the cast are also excellent in their portrayals of the people who come in and out of Alex life, and how his behaviour and actions affect them.

Stanley Kubrick was already a highly acclaimed American director when he wrote, produced and directed A Clockwork Orange. He had previously directed the controversial Lolita (1962) and the sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). After the financing for a film on the life of Napoleon fell through, Kubrick tried to find a film on a low budget to complete, which is when he settled on A Clockwork Orange. It is now considered one of his greatest films, and is certainly one of his most memorable.

When the film was released in December 1971, it was passed uncut with an X certificate. However, it was well documented for containing extreme graphic and sexual violence. When several cases involving similar acts to those in the film were brought to court in 1972, A Clockwork Orange was often mentioned as having an influence, especially in the case of a rape in which the attackers apparently sang Singin’ in the Rain, as Alex does in the film. Stanley Kubrick also said that he and his family had received death threats over the film, which led to him asking Warner Bros. to withdraw it.

However, Kubrick always defended the level of violence the film had, saying; “The violence in the story has to be given sufficient dramatic weight so that the moral dilemma it poses can be seen in the right context.” He also said that the film didn’t breed violence, as people will only do things already in their nature. Over the next few decades, some cinemas would screen the film illegally. After Kubrick’s death in 1999, the film was re-released in cinemas with an 18 certificate.

A Clockwork Orange covers a range of themes, including the question of right and wrong and the issue of morality. The question of whether we’re born or made is also raised. The film is shot using a variety of wide lens shots, close up facial shots and fast & slow motion scenes with music to match, to create a dreamlike quality in the film. Alex and his droogs also speak in Nadsat, described as a form of Russian-influenced English that Burgess uses in the novel, which the characters add into their conversation. They also wear their trademark white outfits, which are now just as iconic as the film is itself, whilst other characters wear a mixture of odd outfits and have brightly coloured hair. This all helps add to the dreamlike allusion, and also to the fact that the film is set in the future.

When released in America, A Clockwork Orange was a huge success, and Stanley Kubrick was nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture. The film is now seen as a major part in the beginning of a relaxation of violence on screen. In 2013, Empire named it eleventh in its Top 100 Greatest British Films Ever list. It is also often said that Heath Ledger based his portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight on the character of Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

Even today, A Clockwork Orange is still seen as a very controversial film, and still has the power to shock. If you want to watch a classic British film that will keep you thinking about it long after you have finished watching, then A Clockwork Orange is defiantly the film to check out.

Read the article at firstinstinctmagazine.com

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About writingsuzanne

History graduate. Freelance writer and reviewer. Passionate about film, theatre and music (film soundtracks!).
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