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British 60s cinema British 60s cinema  

The British New Wave 1958 - 1963

The view of our town from that hill - Alan Bates and June Ritchie in A Kind of Loving

 

It was common practice when I was at school/college - perhaps it still is -  to always start off your essay by saying that you needed to define what was meant by X; it was a good way to start writing rather than stare at a blank piece of paper.  I don't need to do that any more - I don't seem to have trouble writing enough words these days, just the opposite -  but I still think it's worth starting off with some kind of definition of so-called Kitchen Sink films, or New Wave films, as they do seem to be all things to all people.

 

 

Rather like film noir, the cateogry is sometimes endlessly expanded; the following two minute taster for a 15 minute piece on youtube is titled 'British New Wave Cinema of the 1960s'  but their definition goes on to include If...(1968) and Swinging London films such as Alfie and The Knack...and how to get it.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course, and good luck to them (and it's a nicely put together piece) but on this page I've just taken these films to mean those between 1958 and 1963 (for reasons which I'll go on to) and defined my parameters rather more narrowly.


So what to include?  Here's a timeline of the films that are usually included, along with the dates of the source book or play and when they were first published or performed.

Year Play/book Film
1956     
Look Back In Anger (play)      
1957

Room at the Top (novel)

The Entertainer (play)

 
1958

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (novel)

A Taste of Honey (play)

 
1959

Billy Liar (novel)

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (short story)

Room at the Top

Look Back In Anger

1960

A Kind of Loving (novel)

This Sporting Life (novel)

Billy Liar (play)

The L-Shaped Room (novel)

The Entertainer

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

1961  

A Taste of Honey

1962  

A Kind of Loving

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

The L-Shaped Room

1963  

Billy Liar

This Sporting Life

 

 

Set out in this fashion, a number of things become a bit clearer.  Firstly, all the so-called New Wave films have literary antecedents, but, more noticeably, very recent literary antecedents (the normal gap between publication/first production and film release is 2-3 years); secondly, the literary impetus had run its course by 1960; and thirdly, the first film (Room at the Top, right) was in 1959, the last (what I mean by that I'll come on to) in 1963 - four short years. 

 

The first film of the cycle, Room at the Top, looks at class and how it can be a barrier to success.  In this scene Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey) returns to Dufton, his home town, to see his aunt and uncle (played by Beatrice Varley and Wilfred Lawson):


Rita Tushingham and Murray Melvin on location in Salford - A Taste of Honey

So what's the connection?  Why include these films and not others?  There's only 10 films listed above; I've read dozens of articles on these films, and those ones are always mentioned.  Firstly, I suppose there's an element of the 'canonical' about them - like film noir, what films simply have to be in there?  On that basis you have to have, as a bare minimum, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Room at the Top, A Kind of Loving, A Taste of Honey, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and This Sporting Lilfe.  That leaves the two John Osborne play adaptations (Look Back In Anger and The Entertainer) which normally get included (they are in Robert Murphy's chapter on this area of filmmaking in his book, and see below on Peter Hutchings' article) but I'll be honest and admit that I don't know these films very well, simply because they don't appeal to me, perhaps because I don't as a rule of thumb like films adapted from plays; in fact, I'm not sure that I've even seen Look Back in Anger properly...  

 

Billy Liar is, for me, a very different film, that needs to be discussed more as a precursor to Swinging London films, and The L-Shaped Room rarely gets included as a New Wave film, perhaps because it's set in London.

 

Albert Finney in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning - "whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not"

I can't remember a time when I didn't love these films. I'm not sure whether I first saw Saturday Night and Sunday Morning on the TV or at the cinema, but I do remember seeing it at the Watershed in Bristol in December 1984 during my first year at college, and thinking what a great film it was; I haven't changed my mind nearly 30 years later. I showed it as one of 10 films in a British 60s cinema 'season' as part of a film club I ran in Abu Dhabi a year or so ago, and it was generally regarded as the best of the 10.

 

I remember searching them all out (bear in mind this was long before the days of Netflix, Lovefilm, downloads and Sky movie channels) and wanting to read more about them and learn about the people that made them; it's probably no exaggeration to say that they  started my passion for British films.

Many of the films have two main themes in common: class and its restrictions, and unwanted (or at least inconvenient) pregnancies (see below). A Kind of Loving features both themes, and in this sequence the tensions in Vic and ingrid's marriage start to surfance, especially under the baleful watch of Ingrid's mother (played with glee by Thora Hird): 


One definite common theme in these films is that they are all set in the Midlands/the North - not such a radical idea these days, but it was then, when most films were set in London and/or studio bound.  Here's a breakdown of where each film was filmed:

Film Setting
Room at the Top        Halifax, Bradford
The Entertainer Morecambe
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning     Nottingham
A Taste of Honey Stockport, Salford, Manchester, Blackpool
A Kind of Loving Preston, Bolton etc (some disagreement over some locations)
The Loneliness of the Long Distance    Runner Nottingham (but also London and Camber Sands)
Billy Liar Bradford, Leeds
This Sporting Life Halifax, Wakefield

If you add in films which are not usually included in the New Wave, such as Whistle down the Wind (filmed in Pendle Hill and Clitheroe, Lancashire) and Hell is A City (Manchester), it's clear that in a short space of time there was a lot of filming in industrial Northern locations, here's a photo gallery of some of the shots from said films:

 

There's been a bit of a dispute about the location of the bridge that Alan Bates walks over in the shot above in A Kind of Loving; but I have it now on good authority from Peter Ogden and Jeremy Sutcliffe, who have both been in touch, that it is the Gas St Bridge in Oldham (not in Bolton, as was suggested elsewhere).  Here's the page from www.reelstreets.com on the subject:

 

http://www.reelstreets.com/index.php?option=com_films_online&task=view&id=520&film_ref=kind_of_loving&limitstart=40

 

In the shots below the one in the middle is obviously from the film, the two either side were taken by Peter Ogden recently.  Thanks to him and to Jeremy for clearing this up.

Tony Richardson once said, in an interview in 1960, that:

 

"I hate studios.  I no longer want to shoot even interiors in a studio, I would rather work in the limited conditions which a location imposes on you.  For the sort  of realistic films I want to make, by improvising one's way out of the impossibilities of real conditions you get something on the screen that is more true, somehow, than something contrived on a set....once inside a studio you start taking walls out....One is getting in fact less of the human reality."

   

These two short clips show Richardson's iconic use of location, ably assisted by cameraman Walter Lassally:

Beyond the New Wave

As I grew older and learnt much more about these films, they were often presented as a group or set of films that were in direct contrast to the staid and dull 50s. There is an element of truth in that, to be fair, but the conventional reading of British film history (basically: 30s - pre-history, 40s - war films, Ealing and David Lean, 50s - dull, 60s - New Wave and Swinging London, 70s - rubbish, 80s - renaissance) is so restrictive that it is amazing how long its basic elements have remained in place.

 

Beyond the New Wave - Peter Sellers in non-comic mode in Never Let Go

Quite recently (3-4 years ago) I read an article by Peter Hutchings (a Professor at Northumbria University) called 'Beyond the New Wave: Realism in British Cinema, 1959-1963' which has greatly influenced me (it's in 'The British Cinema Book' edited by Robert Murphy). In it he argues that 'realism' was deployed in these key years across a much greater range of types and genres than is usually noted, citing such films as Never Let Go, The Angry Silence, The Damned, The Frightened City and Beat Girl, amongst many others (all of the aforementioned are films I'd like to write about on this website in the future, probably on the 'Unsung films' pages - in fact I've just written a page on Never Let Go [June 14]). This idea fits in very much with the view I've come to independently, that the New Wave films need to be seen in a wider context than has been the case in the past. 

One of the reasons the New Wave films were so popular (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning broke all box-office records at the time, for example, with queues going round the block at its West End cinema) is the strong anti-establishment attitude of many of the central protagonists (for example, see the speech by Tom Courtenay in the trailer for Loneliness... below), none more so than Finney as Arthur Seaton in  Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.  The famous start must have been quite startling for those used to forelock-tugging know-your-place workers:

 

It's interesting to note that while many of the film makers themselves were often very different in outlook (and as many have pointed out, individual directors often made very different films, Tony Richardson being a case in point) the production companies played on the perceived similarities and marketed them with direct reference to previous films in the 'series'.  For example, look at this trailer for The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and see how it is marketed in relation to previous works by both its writer and its director:

 

It's Grim Up North

There are clearly enough similarities in the films for them to be open to parody, and Harry Enfield's South Bank Show with Melvyn Bragg from 1989 - 'Sir Norbert Smith: a Life' - did it better than anyone.  Here's a clip from the programme, with Sir Norbert (surely a direct reference to Sir Laurence Olivier at this point?) appearing in the 1962 Kitchen Sink film 'It's Grim up North' - mainly Saturday Night and Sunday Morning but with a bit of Kes thrown in. Brilliant.

 

The impact of these films has been debated endlessly over the years, and whilst their influence has probably been over-emphasised - when all's said and done, they amount to no more than 10 films at most over a period of 4 years - I don't agree when their impact or influence is sometimes now regarded as negligible. One of the things I love about these films is that they put, centre stage, previously excluded or marginalised groups of people - working class men and women, Northerners, blacks, gays, lesbians, single mothers - in a way which simply didn't happen before, and I don't think that should be overlooked or ignored.  And I still love watching them - great films.



My thanks to www.reelstreets.com and 'The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations' by Tony Reeves for some of the information on this page.

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