I had the pleasure of writing liner notes for Masters of Cinema’s Blu-ray release of Lindsay Anderson and David Sherwin’s IF…. (available below — support Shadowplay by treating yourself to a copy) in which I speculated about the enduring mystery of our time — the fact that UK prime minister David Cameron has cited the movie as his favourite of all time. Anderson’s scabrous satire of British public school life seemed an unlikely choice for a senior product of the conservative establishment to cherish. In my essay, I speculated wildly on what might have led Dave to this choice, but all my suggestions were censored by Paramount, the movie’s rights holder.

But I have now been forced to reconsider my theories, owing to recent revelations (if you are uncertain which revelations I am referring to, Google the words “David Cameron fucked a dead pig’s severed head in the mouth” and all will become clear). I now think that Cameron was confused when choosing his fave pic, and was thinking of the sequel to IF…., 1973’s picaresque fable O LUCKY MAN!

In this film, there is a scene which has haunted nearly everyone I know. I’ve met several people who tuned into the 178 minute epic part-way through, got to THE SCENE, and turned off in terror, and never quite knew what film they had been watching or even if it was real. (I’ve also met people who accidentally tuned in to ERASERHEAD while high. They didn’t look quite as shaken when recalling the experience.) For the IF…. extras I also interviewed actor Brian Pettifer, who nearly starred in this scene, only the special costume they’d made didn’t fit him. The most memorable role in the film ended up going to the actor with the right neck size. Jeremy Bulloch, also known as Boba Fett, or sometimes Boba Bulloch.


The character is a human head transplanted on to a pig’s body by rogue Scottish scientist Graham Crowden. What I’ve now realized is that, obviously, Mr Cameron, seeing this scene, cannot help but realize that somewhere that pig’s head must still be around, and he casts his mind back to happy days of higher education, and feels vestigial stirrings in his private chippolata, as he remembers when he was able to practice upon the lifeless lips of a deceased farm animal those skills he has since used upon the nation as a whole.

If…. (Masters of Cinema) [Blu-ray] [1968]
O Lucky Man! DVD Region 2 Malcom McDowell (Import)

14 Responses to “Pigheaded”

  1. I saw OLM! at a midnight show in a revival house in early 1976, well lubricated for the experience with a healthy dose of psilocybin mushrooms which had just started to kick in nicely as Rachel Roberts invoked William Blake in the opening pep talk. I was immersed in John Gardner, fairy tales, and allegory at the time, and had by no means been expecting anything so epic, so much downright fun…(beautifully acted with recurring actors in multiple roles…Sir Ralph bestowing the gift of a golden jacket…Philip Stone’s inquisitor, it was all just too choice)…and then we came to THE SCENE. Slammed clean against the back wall of the theater, I did recover enough to remain gobsmacked by the movie as a whole, though it did take a while for me to trust that Helen Mirren would not grow fangs. I walked around in a catatonic state for the better part of a week afterward. I’ve only seen the film once or twice since then (and have gone back and forth over whether that’s a pig’s body or a sheep’s), but it remains one of the most potent experiences I’ve ever had indoors. Oddly I suppose, I have never seen either IF… or BRITANNIA HOSPITAL, because of an unshakable sense that they would be weak tea after O LUCK MAN! I’ll have to address that at some point, I expect.

  2. The films bracketing this one are different, is all. The series is only sort-of a series, with Mick Travis only a name and an actor joining them. So you could view the others just as related films by the same writer and director and lead. In later life Sherwin and Anderson pitched “If….2”, on the principle that they’d never actually made a sequel to it.

  3. David Cameron’s a pig’s ass.

  4. henryholland666 Says:

    I like “….if”, even though when I watched it a few years ago it was a bit odd to see the ending battle as students shooting up schools is a serious issue here in America. I’m iffy on “Oh Lucky Man!”, it’s simply too padded out length-wise for me, it feels like an example of 70’s self-indulgence. Good songs by copyright thief Alan Price and his combo though.

    I loathed “Britannia Hospital” the one time I had the misfortune to see it. It’s that sort of brittle, poke in the eye with a sharp stick satire that states the obvious over and over and over and…. that I have no patience with. Too bad it was one of Leonard Rossiter’s final screen roles.

  5. I reacted badly against Britannia Hospital on first viewing, as so many people seem to have done, finding it ugly, nasty and unfunny. Second time round, it seemed a hilarious, beautiful work of genius. I urge you to try it again. Oddly, for a film that is so aggressive in its disdain, it can be surprisingly tricky to work out what its true targets are or if it’s left wing or right wing, misanthropic or romantic.

    Anderson said, “If you love people, you have to be able to get angry with them.”

  6. “a film that is so aggressive in its disdain”
    That’s one of the problems with Britannia Hospital. It’s
    Equal Opportunities contempt. There is also an astonishing “optimism of the will” to it, i think: though that depends on how you look at the ending.

  7. Speaking of scenes that are hard to watch, I recently discovered Tulio Demicheli’s gangster epic Ricco. Without giving anything away, the film includes a scene of violence that in my 45 years plus of heavy-duty film watching I have never seen depicted elsewhere with such ferocity and frankness. Let’s just say it features, in common with the PM, the non-sexual placement of genitalia in the orifice of another. (Perhaps I’m giving the PM a little too much credit.)

    You should go and watch it IMMEDIATELY.

  8. I don’t find its disdain all that aggressive.

    Of course that’s me . Your mileage may vary.

  9. Caution — the Genesis speech should probably not be watched if you’re planning on seeing the film for the first time. It’s the ending. But it’s a great scene. I met Graham Crowden when he was 72 and I was 27 and he could still quote that speech.

    It’s deinintely not weak tea. And the grand guignol elements are even more extreme and shocking than pig-man scene.

  10. Fans of pigs and The Beatles might be interested in this: http://www.facebook.com/PiggiesNo1 (Weblink should be on my name if it doesn’t show here). Tell your friends!

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