The Struggle for History: Lindsay Anderson Teaches Free Cinema

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In spring 1986, Lindsay Anderson appeared in a television programme
on British cinema. This was part of a series of three under the heading
British Cinema: Personal View, produced by Thames Television. Anderson’s
contribution, Free Cinema 1956–? An Essay on Film by Lindsay Anderson, was
written and directed by him. He was also the star of the programme, providing a
lecture on the history of British cinema with himself at the very core, although,
at the time of the production, Anderson’s career was in decline and he was
not involved in any film projects. Drawing on press materials, the programme
itself and Anderson’s personal papers in the University of Stirling library, this
article analyses Anderson’s personal conception of Free Cinema – according to
his understanding, a short-lived documentary movement in the 1950s which
eventually transformed itself into a series of feature films in the ensuing
decades, particularly his own trilogy If. . . . (1968), O Lucky Man! (1973) and
Britannia Hospital (1982). The polemic in the programme was particularly
aimed at the general idea of the British Film Year of 1985 and at the successful
film producer David Puttnam, at the time well known for his contribution to
what was sometimes called the ‘New British Cinema’ of the 1980s. Anderson,
however, dismissed Puttnam as a film-maker concerned only with Oscars
and economic success, and instead lauded the qualities of ‘Free Cinema’, a
realist, non-conformist and radical aesthetic, as the most artistically rewarding
tradition in British cinema. The programme was highly entertaining and was
generally well received by the British press, but did not really strengthen
Anderson’s position within the British film industry, which might, or might not,
have been Anderson’s intention.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)312-331
JournalJournal of British Cinema and Television
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Arts


  • Lindsay Anderson
  • Free Cinema
  • British Film Year
  • Thames Television
  • David Puttnam


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