“ Genre: Drama / Suitable for 12 years and over / Director: Tony Richardson / Actors: Dora Bryan, Robert Stephens, Rita Tushingham, Murray Melvin, Paul Danquah ... / DVD released 2008-10-13 at Optimum Home Releasing / Features of the DVD: PAL „
RELEASED: 1961, Cert. 15
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 100 mins
DIRECTOR/PRODUCER: Tony Richardson
SCREENPLAY: Shelagh Delaney & Tony Richardson
MUSIC: John Addison
Rita Rushingham as Jo
Dora Bryan as Helen
Robert Stephens as Peter
Murray Melvin as Geoffrey
Paul Danquah as Jimmy
FILM ONLY REVIEW
Teenage schoolgirl Jo lives with Helen, her boozy, flighty mother. They have a very unsettled lifestyle, shacking up in poky flats, constantly doing moonlight flits. Jo and Helen's relationship is love/hate in nature, with Jo needing the type of affection her mother seems unable or unwilling to give.
Jo has a brief liaison with Jimmy, a sailor who is quite a bit older than her, and when he departs on a long sea trip, she is lonelier than ever. Matters are made worse when Helen hooks up with a younger man, Peter, and marries him.
Leaving home, school and trying to forge a life for herself by getting a little bedsit, a job at a shoe shop and palling up with kind-natured young textile design student Geoff, Jo discovers that her encounter with Jimmy has resulted in pregnancy.
Amidst many other problems, one issue Jo will have to contend with when her baby is born, is that because Jimmy is black, her child will be of mixed race.
A Taste Of Honey is an early 1960s British kitchen sink drama, filmed in black and white. Set in the grimy slums of Salford, the atmosphere is quite bleak, yet despite the relationship problems between Jo and Helen, there is a definite warmth present around the edges.
When the film begins, it seems as if it will be a thought-provoking, highly serious drama, and although those elements are present, it overall is fairly light-hearted with the music creating a slightly whimsical mood, not dissimilar to the scores used in early Carry On films.
Right from the start, wide-eyed Rita Tushingham mostly steals the show, beautifully acting the part of lippy and attitude-ish, yet deeply lonely teenage Jo. Jo's feelings of isolation are conveyed brilliantly in the film, and anybody who went through a similar phase at that age would be able to strongly identify with her character. Dora Bryan is also superb as Helen, a mother who blows hot and cold with her affections towards her daughter, depending on what is going on in her own life at the time.
As far as the male characters are concerned, far less acting skill was required and Jimmy the sailor's role, although very significant, is small compared to the remainder of the cast. However, it is obvious that Jimmy's feelings for Jo are genuine and the viewer is left to assume that he will pick up the threads of his and Jo's relationship when he returns from his sea trip. A very young Murray Melvin plays the part of the quiet Geoffrey well, and I do believe this was one of his first, if not the first, major acting roles.
However, the best actor for me in A Taste Of Honey is Robert Stephens as Peter, the obnoxious man who Helen has a whirlwind romance with and marries. Stephens truly perfected the part of selfish, borderline abusive greaseball Peter, he and Jo viciously competing with one another for Helen's affections.
Similarly to other kitchen sink dramas of that era, I guess A Taste Of Honey is intended to throw a spanner into the works of conventional society's attitudes, and it does raise a couple of issues which were in transitional mode at the time...one being teenage sex and pregnancy outside of marriage, another being mixed race romantic relationships and another very vaguely edging around the possibility that Geoffrey might be gay. It is interesting to note that if an insinuation towards Geoffrey's sexuality was intended, it comes across as far more veiled than the issues of race and teenage pregnancy, as society at the time of the release of this film probably wasn't yet ready to open its eyes and bring the issue of people's gender preferences out of the closet.
A Taste Of Honey isn't as hard-hitting as most other kitchen sink dramas from that era, simply because it does have a definite element of light-heartedness about it, probably intended to be mildly amusing - although such doesn't particularly appeal to my own sense of humour. However, other aspects are put across very well, such as Jo and Helen's relationship problems, and each time I see this film, I find myself giving a lot of thought towards the character of Jo and how the lack of stability and proper affection in her life creates a young adult who from within is so isolated that although she can feel and show friendship, is unable to let anybody get too close to her. The selfishness of mother Helen also gives food for thought, in that at the end of each and every day, no matter how warmly she at times appears to behave towards her daughter, she at root has little or no more than her own interests at heart.
I wouldn't say that A Taste Of Honey is by any means even close to the top of the tree when it comes to kitchen sink dramas, as it presses its points home far too vaguely, and that tinge of mild humour present distracts from any thought-provoking concepts present. Also, some people may find the film hard to watch firstly in that the storyline is rather bitty, overall seeming to lack substance, together with Jo's and Helen's Manchester accents coming across as raw, biting and over-exaggerated. They also speak in very harsh tones, loudly barking rather than talking at one another (they never talk to each other....always at), which can be irritating to listen to. However, the development of each character is strong, there being plenty going on under the surface...particularly that of Jo, whereby there is much more to her than meets the eye. This film for me, as far as the acting is concerned, is one that relies on accuracy of facial expression rather than what can come across as a clipped, too sharply spoken dialogue.
A Taste Of Honey has over the decades managed to achieve classic status in the world of kitchen sink drama movies from the late 1950s/early 1960s, and although it does have its faults and isn't by any means the best of its ilk, it is nonetheless an enjoyable film to watch, deserving its place in the annals of British cinematic history. Of course it is dated, but it wasn't at the time and personally I don't think such should be an issue. However, the film hasn't transferred too well to DVD, the black and white tones having a slightly greenish hue.
I do overall recommend A Taste Of Honey, in that it can be enjoyed as a vaguely amusing chunk out of a young girl's life and relationship with her off the wall mother, or if you prefer to delve deeper into the veiled issues it attempts to deal with, it could give a little food for thought in parts.
At the time of writing, A Taste Of Honey can be purchased from Amazon as follows:-
New: from £6.00 to £59.99
Used: £7.73 to £17.99
Some items on Amazon are available for free delivery within the UK, but where this doesn't apply, a £1.26 charge should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
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