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 Was A Taste of Honey a typical film of the British New Wave?

Module: Screening Europe
Module Coordinator: Dr Emma Austin
Academic Year 1 (2020/2021)

This is the sixth of six blog post essays for the module Screening Europe. Part of the assessment was to write a few sentences about another student’s work – the student number and link to their work has been removed. Please note that is an academic video sharing platform and simply including the links in the way I have without an embedded video was accepted.

Featured image (IMDb, n.d.)

The British New Wave had several key characteristics closely linked with social realism and the British documentary movement. These films follow ordinary lives, without unrealistic characters, but most importantly were “free from the pressures of the box-office or the demands of propaganda” (Dupin, n.d.) and focused on characters and lifestyles with an emphasis on working class male protagonists, sexual relationships outside of marriage and generational angst. These themes were spearheaded by a group of playwrights and novelists known as the ‘angry young men’, who “were characterized by disillusionment with traditional English society. The term was always imprecise, began to have less meaning over the years as the writers to whom it was originally applied became more divergent, and many of them dismissed the label as useless.” (Belei, 2010, p. 17).

There is a strong class divide between the characters of A Taste of Honey  (Richardson, 1961) emphasised through attitudes to money. We see Jo and Helen skipping out on paying their last two months rent, only to move into a run down apartment, which doesn’t even have light shades on the lights. Helen remarries, so Jo moves into her own place. Although it is a large open space, there is very little to fill the room – there are no curtains, the floor is bare and the wood burner is in the center of the room. The lighting in these scenes is often dark, which exaggerates and emphasizes the shadows and general state of the room.

Helen marries Peter, who is wealthy – he bought a bungalow just for them to live in and owns a shiny car. This causes conflict between him and Jo, because Jo doesn’t think the age gap between him and her mother is appropriate. Peter gives an ultimatum to Helen “She [Jo] goes, or I do, which is it?”, and Helen choses Peter.

When we see Helen talking to Geoffrey in her house, there is no establishing shot of the house, instead it goes straight to a brightly lit, clean and fabulously furnished house. Helen has married into wealth and therefore up a social class. When she chose Peter over Jo, she chose money and consumerism and upon giving Jo the option to move in with her, Jo chose to stay, choosing love and independence she was so desperate for, instead of the money and consumerism. The screenwriter is suggesting here that you cannot have both by presenting Jo with the choice between the two.

When Helen comes to visit Jo she is immediately dismissive of her lodgings. She is smartly dressed and smoking a cigarette – another reminder that she has married “up a class” and now has money, even offering to send money weekly to help Jo out. Jo is resistant to the money offer at first. The class conflict here is clear – the younger generation are isolated from the older generation who see consumerism and class aspiration as the way forward.

A Taste of Honey tells the story of an ordinary life – there are no dazzling, eccentric, or unrealistic characters, but instead ordinary people separated by class. It was written by Shelagh Delaney and included themes that were not typical of British New Wave films, such as homosexuality and interratial relationships. There are, however, similarities, particularly those such as class divides in Room at the Top (Clayton, 1958) and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Richardson, 1962) and sex outside of marrige as seen in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Reisz, 1960) and A Kind of Loving (Schlesinger, 1962). For these latter reasons, A Taste of Honey is a typical film of the British New Wave.


Marking Criteria 3

x’s blog on Spanish Cinema and The Devil’s Backbone (del Toro, 2001) is excellent in the knowledge of the subject and film, suggesting good interpretation of key scenes. It is visually engaging, with images breaking up the paragraphs, and has links to relevant clips.

There is strong evidence of reading around the topic with references to primary and secondary sources. The spelling and grammar are good, with correct Harvard APA referencing conventions.

The subject interests me and I found myself following the links and finding the citations to learn more about it.

  • Belei, O. M. (2010). The Angry Young Men. Journal of Humanistic and Social Studies, 1(2), 17–30.
  • Clayton, J. (Director). (1958). Room at the Top [Film]. Romulus Films; Remus.
  • del Toro, G. (Director). (2001). The Devil’s Backbone [Film]. El Deseo; Tequila Gang; Sogepaq.
  • Dupin, C. (n.d.). Free Cinema. BFI Screen Online.
  • IMDb. (n.d.). A Taste of Honey Poster. IMDb.
  • Reisz, K. (Director). (1960). Saturday Night and Sunday Morning [Film]. Woodfall Film Productions.
  • Richardson, T. (Director). (1961). A Taste of Honey [Film]. Woodfall Film Productions.
  • Richardson, T. (Director). (1962). The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner [Film]. Woodfall Film Productions.
  • Schlesinger, J. (Director). (1962). A Kind of Loving [Film]. Joseph Janni Productions; Vic Films Productions; Waterhall Productions.