Friday, April 20, 2018

A Taste of Honey

Based on the play by Shelagh Delaney, A Taste of Honey is the story of a 17-year old girl who tries to find herself in her dreary environment as she also deals with romantic entanglements and her indifferent mother. Directed by Tony Richardson and screenplay by Richardson and Delaney, the film is an exploration of a young girl in a working class world that offers little prospects as she also growing pains and the realism of her situation. Starring Rita Tushingham, Dora Bryan, Paul Danquah, Murray Melvin, and Robert Stephens. A Taste of Honey is a riveting yet haunting film from Tony Richardson.

The film follows the journey of a young woman living in Manchester with her mother as she copes with the world she lives in as well as her need to be loved as the people she would meet would come and go throughout her journey. It’s a film that explores a 17-year old girl named Josephine “Jo” (Rita Tushingham) who arrives to Manchester with her 40-something mother Helen (Dora Bryan) after not paying their rent in another town. The film’s screenplay by Shelagh Delaney and Tony Richardson that is based on the play by the former follows Jo’s life as she is trying to juggle school as well as find work but also having to deal with her mother’s need to socialize and find a new husband. During this time, Jo would meet a young black sailor named Jimmy (Paul Danquah) who would be kind to her but their romance is brief as he had to leave for his job. With Helen’s love life going up as she meets a younger man named Peter Smith (Robert Stephens), Jo’s relationship with her mother becomes troubled as she later ventures on her own where she befriends a young textile design student named Geoffrey (Murray Melvin) who would help Jo in her own plight with life.

Richardson’s direction does provide a sense of theatricality into the dramatic elements of the film in the way characters talk to each other as well as the setting they’re in. Shot largely on location in Manchester with a scene set in Blackpool, the film does play into a world that is dreary yet also exciting in some respects as there is this uncertainty that looms throughout the film into what Jo wants. While Richardson makes no qualms into how dreary the city looked with its canals, bombed-out buildings, and other places that is in ruins with not much prospect. Even as someone like Jo would have a hard time finding a place of her own and a job but would eventually get both during the film’s second half as she adjust to the life of a working woman. While Richardson would use some wide shots to establish the locations as well as some key dramatic moments including scenes in Blackpool where Jo finds herself not liking Peter whom she feels is just wrong for her mother but is also cruel to Jo.

Richardson’s usage of the close-ups and medium shots help play into the interaction between the characters as it also showcase these intense moments in the drama as it help play into Jo’s anguish over her troubled relationship with her mother. There’s an innocence to the taboo relationship between Jo and Johnny during the film’s first act yet the revelations of that relationship would later haunt the former in its third act as she’s living with Geoffrey who is concerned about her well-being. Its sense of theatricality would heighten up in the third act where there’s a tug-of-war over Jo’s best interest between Geoffrey and Helen with the latter’s intention being unclear if she really cares about her daughter despite ignoring her feelings for much of the film’s first half. Even as Jo copes with the situation she’s in as well as the uncertainty of her future. Overall, Richardson crafts an engaging yet rapturous film about a 17-year old girl’s plight in Manchester.

Cinematographer Walter Lassally does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography to capture the dreary daytime exteriors of Manchester and the more playful world of Blackpool with some low-key lighting for some of the scenes at night. Editor Antony Gibbs does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some transitional dissolves to play into the drama. Art director Ralph W. Brinton does fantastic work with the look of the apartment homes that the Jo and Helen would live in as well as the more spacious apartment that Jo would share with Geoffrey. Sound editors Don Challis and Roy Hyde do superb work with the sound in capturing the air of realism for the scenes on location including the neighborhood children in the background. The film’s music by John Addison is terrific for its orchestral-based score that has some light-hearted moments in the strings while creating some somber themes for the dramatic moments in the film.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast include a couple of small roles from Margo Cunningham as a landlady early in the film who wants rent money from Helen and Michael Bilton as a landlord who would give Jo a place to live as long as she paid her rent. Robert Stephens is superb as Peter as Helen’s new boyfriend whom she would marry as he’s a man that is cruel to Jo and seems to care more about appearances and being needed for selfish reasons than be generous. Paul Danquah is fantastic as Jimmy as a black sailor for ship that is intrigued by Jo as he would care for her and love her until he had to leave to go back to his ship for work. Murray Melvin is excellent as Geoffrey as a textile designer student who befriends Jo at a shoe store she worked at where he later lives with her and help her deal with the situation she’s in during the film’s third act.

Dora Bryan is brilliant as Jo’s mother Helen as a woman that is trying to hold on to her youth as she ignores her responsibilities as a mother in favor of going out and meeting a man who doesn’t treat her well as she later becomes anguished in being needed or to help Jo. Finally, there’s Rita Tushingham in an incredible debut performance as Jo as a 17-year old woman who deals with her dreary environment and sense of uncertainty as it’s a performance that has a lot of charm and energy into how she tries to be upbeat no matter how bad things are while coping with the realities of the world as it is a true breakthrough performance from one of Britain’s great actresses.

A Taste of Honey is a tremendous film from Tony Richardson that features a phenomenal performance from Rita Tushingham. Along with its ensemble cast, evocative look, and a mixture of dramatic realism and theatricality, the film is compelling story that follows a young woman trying to find herself as well as the need to be loved and cared for in a world that can be unforgiving. In the end, A Taste of Honey is a spectacular film from Tony Richardson.

Tony Richardson Films: (Momma Don’t Allow) – (Look Back in Anger) – (The Entertainer) – (Sanctuary (1961 film)) – The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner – (Tom Jones (1963 film)) – (The Loved One) – (Mademoiselle (1966 film)) – (The Sailor from Gibraltar) – (The Charge of the Light Brigade) – (Laughter in the Dark) – (Hamlet (1969 film)) – (Ned Kelly (1970 film)) – (A Delicate Balance) – (Dead Cert) – (Joseph Andrew) – (The Border (1982 film)) – (The Hotel New Hampshire) – (Penalty Phase) – (The Phantom of the Opera (1990 film)) – (Women & Men: Stories of Seduction) – (Blue Sky)

© thevoid99 2018


Anonymous said...

I remember my film studies teacher recommending this movie to me. Still haven’t seen it but with his words and your review, I’m going to view it.

Chris said...

I just watched Saturday Night Sunday Morning (also from British new wave) and Albert Finney is amazing in that. I've gotta check out A Taste of Honey as well. Kind of sounds like the female counterpart (again, a young person trying to figure out stuff in a dreary environment)

thevoid99 said...

@vinnieh-It was on Turner Classic Movies earlier this month. I recorded it and I decided to watch it as I'm running out of space in my DVR as it was devastating but a must for anyone that wants to see British cinema.

@Chris-There's a lot of films of the British New Wave that I want to see including that film. A Taste of Honey is part of that wave of kitchen-sink realism as it's a must as I'm just enamored with Rita Tushingham as I discovered her years ago in The Knack and How to Get It (another essential film of the British New Wave).