Top 5 Kitchen Sink Dramas
With a clutch of classic British social realist films coming out on DVD next month, Peter Wild introduces his Top 5.
English social realist movies, kitchen sink dramas (a term derived from a painting by John Bratby), the angry young men - whatever you want to call them, you can't deny the power that a brace of plays, books and films produced in the 50s and 60s continues to exert to this very day. Certainly, the influence of movies like A Taste of Honey, Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, A Kind of Loving, Look Back in Anger and Billy Liar can be seen in everything from the music of Morrissey to the kind of dialogue you see in Coronation Street, Britain's longest running and arguably most popular soap.
1. A Taste of Honey
Adapted from a landmark play written by 18 year old Shelagh Delaney, A Taste of Honey has stood the test of time better than many of its contemporaries. With a plotline that has been pillaged and plagiarised by just about every soap ever (young neglected girl finds love in the arms of a stranger and is left holding the baby), the movie is characterised by a clutch of terrific performances (the triumvirate of Rita Tushingham, Dora Bryan and Murray Melvin, in particular, is a joy to watch). Music fans may also care to note that A Taste of Honey featured the first solo work by then young Beatle, Paul McCartney, as well as a whole host of lines later stolen virtually wholesale by Morrissey.
2. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
Adapted from his own book by Alan Silitoe and directed by Tony Richardson, a key figure in the British Social Realist movement who would later go on to direct John Osborne's Look Back in Anger to great acclaim, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is an exemplar in kitchen sink drama: there is a central sympathetic, albeit mildly ambiguous, central character played by Tom Courtnenay; a bruising, uncomfortable home life; petty crime; redemption offered in the form of a love that doesn't work out; and, finally, cathartically, a conclusion that leaves our awkward protagonist where he feels he needs to be. Beautifully shot, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is a stone classic.
3. A Kind of Loving
As kitchen sink as kitchen sink drama ever got, A Kind of Loving follows the fortunes of Vic Brown (played in perfect dour Northern bloke fashion by Alan Bates) as he takes up with a typist Ingrid (played with a sort of wounded chagrin by June Ritchie) in the factory where he works as a draftsmen. There is an unsatisfactory one-night stand that leaves him wanting no more to do with her - until he learns she is pregnant and 'does the right thing'. Which is where Ingrid's mother Mrs Rothwell (a vengeful and mean-spirited Thora Hird) comes in, piling misery on top of misery until Vic and Ingrid agree to make do with the eponymous 'kind of loving'. As with Saturday Night Sunday Morning, A Kind of Loving is all about reflecting life as it truly was - and a marvellous job it does.
4. Up the Junction
Unlike the great majority of social realist movies (your Taste of Honey, Saturday Night Sunday Morning, Billy Liar, A Kind of Loving etc), Up the Junction is based in London - in Clapham to be exact - and is as much about celebrating the time in which it was set (1968) as it was about saying, ah well, life can be a bit grim sometimes, can't it? Adapted from a groundbreaking novel by Nell Dunn, the film concerns a girl (played by Suzy Kendall) who gives up a privileged life in Chelsea to work in a factory in Battersea, where she takes up with a young Dennis Waterman and comes to learn just how hard life can be. Admirably unsentimental, Up the Junction is a rare gem, a film that has until recent years been languishing awaiting a reappraisal that the current reissue should go some way towards delivering.
5. Billy Liar
Billy Fisher is a dreamer. He has a whole country in his head, a place he goes to when grim reality proves too much. And reality, in Billy Liar, doesn't come much grimmer: there is his home life, where his mum and dad (Mona Washbourne and Wilfred Pickles, both excellent) perpetually grind on about how it's time for him to grow up; there is work, in the funeral parlour under Leonard Rossitter's malevolent Mr Shadrach; and, for Billy, there are women - Rita, a shrewish blonde played by Gwendolyn Watts, Barbara, a mumsy housewife type played by Helen Fraser, and Liz played - in a career-defining performance - by Julie Christie. Pinging from one setback to another like a pinball, Billy's problems are all largely of his own making but that doesn't stop you siding with him every time he takes up his imaginary machine-gun. Essential viewing.