Thanlis’s review published on Letterboxd:
That finishes up my viewing of the Criterion Channel's British New Wave collection, and I seem to have saved the best for last. Throughout these movies I kept noticing that, while they were almost all concerned with class, few of them transcended traditional class stereotypes. Ken Loach's film shatters them.
He was willing to show the reality of being poor in England. All his characters are real, and all of them struggle with the impossibility of their dreams. Even the sadistic PE teacher is a dreamer. There's one moment when the otherwise grounded movie slips into a flight of fancy, while the teacher is pretending to be a Manchester United player. For a moment, a match score is superimposed on the screen. There's nothing like that anywhere else in the movie and it's Loach's way of making sure we don't miss the parallels between the teacher and Billy.
It's a really well constructed movie like that. Easy for the naturalist style to overshadow how precise it is, but I don't think there's a wasted moment. All the interactions have a point. The shower scene doesn't just show us the cruelty of the school system, it shows us how Billy's confidence has increased. There's a whole cascade of sequences in which Billy's affinity for heights is casually demonstrated -- and, hey, that final scene takes place on a hill.
Marvelous movie and I'm glad I saved it for the last.