Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Tiger Bay (1959)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Tiger Bay (1959)
35mm, black and white, 105 mins
Directed byJ. Lee Thompson
Production CompanyIndependent Artists
Produced byJohn Hawkesworth
Screenplay byJohn Hawkesworth
 Shelley Smith
Original storyNoel Calef
PhotographyEric Cross
Music byLaurie Johnson

Cast: Horst Buchholz (Korchinsky); John Mills (Superintendent Graham); Hayley Mills (Gillie Evans); Megs Jenkins (Mrs Phillips); Anthony Dawson (Barclay)

Show full cast and credits

A seven-year-old girl witnesses a murder in Cardiff's Tiger Bay, and befriends the Polish sailor who committed it.

Show full synopsis

Tiger Bay (d. J. Lee Thompson, 1959) is more romantic and dramatic than realistic, more traditional than the uncompromising, radical departure of the films of the British New Wave. It is in some ways a transition: both traditional and modern, but not exactly social realism. It was ahead of its time in showing aspects of life not usually displayed in film in the 1950s, but limits these insights to brief glimpses.

Nonetheless, the film is occasionally powerful in dealing with contemporary issues, notably sexual equality. In the brief time before she is murdered, Anya (Yvonne Mitchell) is inspiringly feminist; with some surprisingly modern lines: "Just because you helped me once, is that a life sentence? I'm not an animal for a little boy to keep in a cage; I'm a woman, a woman with a heart and a body which is my own to give how I like, when I like."

Tiger Bay is also unusual in its treatment of kids, taking them seriously - their culture, the way they play, the way they think, what they take seriously. Child star Hayley Mills made her screen debut - aged twelve - as the young girl who befriends troubled drifter Bronik (Horst Bucholz).

The film is beautifully observed in its depictions of life on its decaying, Dickensian stairways; other locations are equally well chosen. It also offers a tantalising, but again frustratingly brief, glimpse of the rich multiracial culture of Cardiff's docklands. Like A Taste of Honey (d. Tony Richardson, 1961), it has a fascination with what would soon become industrial archaeology: the crumbling but ingenious cranes, mobile bridges and industrial landscapes of Britain's merchant maritime past.

Tiger Bay is representative of the pinnacle of traditional black and white cinematography, with every scene and shot beautifully lit and composed. Sumptuous in its appearance, it does not yet show the kind of experimental black and white photography (fast film stocks, greater use of natural light) found in A Taste of Honey.

Ewan Davidson

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Witness to murder (3:04)
2. In church (3:36)
3. On the bridge (2:24)
4. Bronik and Christine (2:55)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Fallen Idol, The (1948)
Heart Within, The (1957)
Opening of Transporter Bridge at Newport, Mon (1906)
Hawkesworth, John (1920-2003)
Lee Thompson, J. (1914-2002)
Mills, Hayley (1946-)
Mills, John (1908-2005)
Children on Film