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Taste of Honey, A (1961)

Main image of Taste of Honey, A (1961)
35mm, black and white, 100 mins
DirectorTony Richardson
Production CompanyWoodfall Film Productions
ProducerTony Richardson
ScriptShelagh Delaney
 Tony Richardson
Original playShelagh Delaney
PhotographyWalter Lassally
MusicJohn Addison

Cast: Rita Tushingham (Jo); Dora Bryan (Helen); Murray Melvin (Geoffrey); Robert Stephens (Peter); Paul Danquah (Jimmy)

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A Mancunian teenager becomes pregnant by a black sailor. She leaves her feckless mother and her flashy new boyfriend to set up her own home. She moves in with a young gay man, who helps look after her as she faces an uncertain future.

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Tony Richardson's film of Shelagh Delaney's play was a critical and commercial success, following hard on the heels of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (d. Karel Reisz, 1960) and its impact on British screens.

The film was opened out from the play, through Richardson and cinematographer Walter Lassally's impressionistic use of industrial landscapes. The canals and backstreets of Salford take on a dreamy air as Jo tries to come to an accommodation with herself and her life. Some of the imagery, such as Jimmy's boat going down the ship canal or the match cut between a starry sky and a dance hall ceiling, is incredibly beautiful, creating a coming-of-age portrait which compares with the best such works in world cinema.

Subjects like sex, abortion and homosexuality were tackled through the emotions of Jo, played impressively by newcomer Rita Tushingham. However the loose plot and languid atmosphere make it seem less didactic than some of the other new wave films. Jo is and always has been an outsider to 'respectable' society and so approaches life on her own terms. Ellen and Geoff are also cast out in different ways by their sexuality, yet feel more need than Jo to be accepted, hence Geoff's desire to be a husband and father.

The script contrives to keep in Delaney's best lines while creating a cinematic, rather than a theatrical experience. There is a delight in the truth of words and phrases in the great traditions of Northern England. Indeed the film remains a touchstone of Northern culture; memorable lines such as 'I dreamt about you last night and I fell out of bed twice' reappeared in the early work of influential Manchester rock group The Smiths.

In a sub-genre frequently accused of being excessively macho, A Taste of Honey offers a feminine sensibility and a style and story that still seem fresh and moving forty years on. It is unfair that Richardson's unpopularity with critics has prevented the film receiving its just recognition.

Phil Wickham

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Monthly Film Bulletin review
This Sporting Life (1963)
Shelagh Delaney's Salford (1960)
Bryan, Dora (1924-)
Gibbs, Antony
Lassally, Walter (1926-)
Richardson, Tony (1928-1991)
Stephens, Robert (1931-1995)
Tushingham, Rita (1942-)
British New Wave
Female Protagonists
The 'Angry Young Men'