Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pantheon movie of the month - A TASTE OF HONEY (1961)

A TASTE OF HONEY is a British new wave movie that has acquired something of a cult status since Morrissey announced it was his favourite film of all time and referenced its lead characters in his lyrics. Adapted for the screen by playwright Shelagh Delaney, who penned it at 18, it perfectly epitomises all those British films that turned away from polished period dramas toward chronicling the real life of the working classes in our Northern industrial towns - the so-called Kitchen Sink dramas.

The movie stars a very young, pre-fame Rita Tushingham as Jo, an earnest young school-girl who has to "manage" her flighty mother Helen (Dora Bryan), fleeing from unpaid bills in cramped rooms in Bed and Breakfast hotels. Her life seems hopeless until she chances to meet a young dock-worker called Geoff (Murray Melvin). She falls in love and falls pregnant - a turn of events more piquant given that this is the early 1960s - that he is black. Forced to leave school, Jo takes up with Jimmy (Paul Danquish), a sweet gay best friend who offers to do the honourable thing.

The story is gripping, well-told and feels all too authentic. Despite the sombre subject matter it never seems heavy or pretentious - indeed, it contains some wickedly funny lines. Rita Tushingham is stunningly good as Jo, but the cast is first class all the way through, with some of the cast reprising their roles from the successful West End run. The black and white photography of Manchester is stunning and serves as an interesting counter-point to Terence Davies' recent black and white homage to Liverpool, OF TIME AND CITY. Tony Richardson's direction is pitch-perfect - and this movie stands up with his perhaps better known films, THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER and LOOK BACK IN ANGER.

A TASTE OF HONEY was released in 1961 and played Cannes and Venice 1962. Rita Tushingham and Murray Melvin won Best Actress and Actor at Cannes.

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