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We are the Lambeth Boys (1959)


Main image of We are the Lambeth Boys (1959)
35mm, black and white, 52 mins
DirectorKarel Reisz
Production Co.Graphic Films
SponsorFord Motor Company
ProducerLeon Clore
PhotographyWalter Lassally
EditorJohn Fletcher

Members of Alford House Youth Club in Kennington, London, are seen at school, at work, and taking part in the club's activities.

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Karel Reisz's We Are the Lambeth Boys (1959) has much in common with Lindsay Anderson's Every Day Except Christmas (1957). It was produced by Leon Clore, sponsored by Ford for its Look at Britain series, filmed by the usual Free Cinema technical staff - in particular cinematographer Walter Lassally and editor John Fletcher - and delivered in the same 50-minute format.

The film once again took a sympathetic approach to an aspect of working-class life largely neglected by commercial British cinema. After Every Day's dignified depiction of market workers in Covent Garden, Lambeth Boys attempted to deliver a positive portrait of the lives of ordinary teenagers, far from the usual violent 'Teddy Boy' stereotype. In a sense, the film also developed the theme initiated by Reisz and Tony Richardson in Momma Don't Allow three years earlier.

Lambeth Boys was shot over six weeks in the summer of 1958 in and around the Alford House, a youth club in the Oval area of South London. It follows a group of teenagers at work, at home and in their leisure time, giving them space to express their frustrations and aspirations.. The film is never so good as when it lets the camera move around the group or capture their faces in close-up, rather than providing facts and figures or a sociological analysis.

In a famous article on the film in Sight and Sound, sociologist Richard Hoggart talked of it as a 'film essay' rather than a documentary, because, as he claimed, "it sets out to show, not the whole truth, but some aspects of the truth, wholly". From that perspective, the film succeeded in embodying "the strength and variety of these young people's vitality, their lively, tolerant and complex sense of community".

However the film suffers similar drawbacks to Every Day Except Christmas: the unnecessary voice-over commentary gives it a paternalist tone which undermines the sensitivity of Reisz's images and natural sound, and seems obsolete to today's spectator. The film also loses some of its 'poetic authenticity' by trying too hard to show how nice these youngsters are.

A success at the Free Cinema 6 screenings at the NFT in March 1959, Lambeth Boys won the Grand Prix at the Tours short film festival in France and represented Britain at the Venice film festival. By that time, though, Reisz had already moved on to direct his first feature, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1961).

Christophe Dupin

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'Free Cinema'. A short excerpt from this film can also be viewed via the BFI's YouTube channel.

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete film (48:38)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Rocking Horse, The (1962)
Clore, Leon (1918-1992)
Lassally, Walter (1926-)
Reisz, Karel (1926-2002)
Free Cinema
Free Cinema 6