Look Back in Anger (Tony Richardson, 1959)
At some point I ploughed through a load of British New Wave and Hammer Horror Films, noting the way in which the behind-the-camera team overlapped — DP here, director there, director here, screenwriter there. I suspect if you tried to do a Venn diagram of kitchen sink, horror and comedy between 1950 and 1975, there’d be huge overlaps. I know I saw A Taste of Honey (1961) and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), but I don’t think I caught this adaptation of John Osbourne’s play that recast Kenneth Haigh (Jimmy), Alan Bates (Cliff), Mary Ure (Alison) and Helena Hughes (Helena Charles) with Richard Burton, Gary Raymond, Mary Ure and Claire Bloom.
And there in the credits you see Nigel Kneale’s name.
Of course, he didn’t just do science fiction, but it was presumably just after or overlapping Quatermass and t’Pit (1958-59), although the fillm version was decade away. He was go on to adapt Osbourne’s The Entertainer (1960). I’m not sure, haven’t not seen the play (unless I caught a BBC version twenty years ago) what Kneale has done, beyond presumably adding scenes in the market, the station and the pub, and the bit with the crashlanded alien, but I wonder if the threatened market stallholder S. P. Kapoor is his addition (at least one of the Quatermass scripts wanted to draw comparisons with contemporary race relations).
So Jimmy Porter runs a sweet stall with flat mate Cliff and dominates his girlfriend Alison, who invites her friend, aspiring actress Helena to stay. Jimmy is angry and young and a man, presumably underachieving — depending how you read his allusions to Wordsworth, but market stallholders can read poetry, of course — and still mourning his father who died when he was ten. One escape is in playing jazz at local clubs. It’s not clear whether he fought in the war or has done national service.
But he is not a happy bunny and is heavily controlling of Alison, who is pregnant, but she doesn’t want to be controlled, or so it seems. The relationships are going to shuffle.
It’s hard, seventy years on, to reconstruct the impact this play had at the Royal Court, and the way it swept aside the well-made plays of Terence Rattigan and Nöel Coward, whose plays have gone through at least one renaissance now. I’m not able to recognise George Devine and Glen Byam Shaw of the Royal Court, Old Vic and Young Vic circles. I didn’t even recognise Donald Pleasence in a fairly early role. But you can’t help feel that Porter needs a good kick in the face and he really wants to get over himself. Thanks to the early death of his father, who had fought in the Spanish civil war, we know he had a problematic childhood, but these rebels without causes have not aged well. It’s not as if he is especially punished for his actions — but I wonder if we read the abuser/abusee relationship rather differently than we might have done at the end of the 1950s.
Meanwhile, there is a pull of Free Cinema and a documentary feel to the exterior shots, even as Brief Encounter might tug back for the waiting room.