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A Taste of Honey

Shelagh Delaney’s play A Taste of Honey (written when she was only 19) had already played in the West End and on Broadway before Tony Richardson made his excellent film adaptation. It was the kind of taboo-breaking, socially conscious work that was bound to appeal to Richardson. Set and shot in Salford and Blackpool, it provides a sympathetic but never sentimental portrait of a young working-class woman who is forced to make her own way in the world. Bored at school (especially when her teacher drones on about Keates’ ode ‘To a Nightingale’) and in conflict with her boozy, sexually promiscuous mother
(a very funny Dora Bryan), Jo (Rita Tushingham) leaves home when she becomes pregnant by a black sailor and teams up with a kind gay man, Geoffrey (Murray Melvin). The outsiders set up house together and enjoy an innocent approximation
of married life until Jo’s mother cruelly separates the pair.
Much less stylised than Richardson’s subsequent films, A Taste of Honey’s chief assets are its richly-etched characters, marvellous performances and its strong sense of the stigma associated with miscegenation and homosexuality in a cruel and bigoted society. Despite the naturalistic style, the film is also richly romantic. Images of the industrial landscape, the waterways and tenements are beautifully composed by ace British New Wave cinematographer Walter Lassally and form a valuable counterpoint to the social drama. One of the simplest but most striking moments has Jo in silhouette beneath the railway arches, arms outstretched as she yells to Geoffrey, ‘We’re bloody marvellous!’
(1961. Black and white. 100 mins.)

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