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A Kind of Loving

A Kind of Loving(1962)

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teaser A Kind of Loving (1962)

The pent-up energies squelched by World War II emerged, in the case of film, with a bang even before the war ended. First out of the gate was Italian neo-realism with Luchino Visconti's Ossessione (1943). In quick succession came landmark neo-realist films from Rossellini, De Sica, Zavattini and Fellini, in many cases yanked from rubble, cast with amateurs, mostly detailing the struggles of the poor in a country trying to get on its feet again. Soon afterward came the Italian influenced French New Wave -- Chabrol, Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, Rivette -- bent on breaking down the walls of the studio system, taking the camera into the streets, stressing an invigorating spontaneity in small-scaled films whose intimacy left room for caustic takes on postwar France.

No less bracingly urgent were the films of the British New Wave, although in its own time, few called it that. Hardly had John Osborne burst upon the scene with his play and then film Look Back in Anger (1959, Tony Richardson) than that generation's often scalding output led them to be called Angry Young Men. On the play's opening night in 1956, audience members gasped at the sight of an ironing board in the play's shabby flat. The arrival the same year of Room at the Top (1959) erased any last shred of doubt about the thematic thrust of this assaultive new body of work, now referred to as kitchen-sink drama. These new working-class heroes wanted in. The floodgates were open. In short order followed semi-documentary renderings of the alienated protagonists of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (1962), This Sporting Life (1963), and others. By the mid-1960s, though, the wind had gone out of the movement's sails.

But not before giving us two of the genre's most memorable films, both based in and around Manchester, the sooty brick-bound factory hub often acknowledged as the grimmest of the grim. Yet Tony Richardson's A Taste of Honey (1961) and John Schlesinger's debut film, A Kind of Loving (1962) share a rueful, even wistful quality, not immediately apparent because of the scorching impatience in the surprisingly subtle performance of Alan Bates in the latter. He plays Vic Brown, a young draftsman in a Manchester factory who has caught his boss's eye and has reason, as the first member of his working class family to land a white-collar job; Vic believes he's going places and he articulates his dream of traveling en route up the economic and social ladders. Things get complicated, though, when he falls for June Ritchie's typist, who is yieldingly sweet but beneath whose blond bouffant hairdo not much is going on apart from gossip, movies, and starting to think about how she'd like to decorate the flat she sees herself moving to away from her mother's baleful eye.

Drawing upon Sam Barstow's novel, with a screenplay by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, Schlesinger obviously gave careful thought to choosing his settings. Manchester and its oft-gritty environs are a presence in the drama, not mere backdrops. It's hard to tell where the ingrained soot leaves off and the bricks begin in the rows of cramped houses. It's an environment designed to squeeze the soul out of one. In contrast to the mean, pinched houses and improvised football patches on cracked pavement are the towering smokestacks and cooling towers of what seems ever more oppressively an industrial gulag. (There's an irony here - while you can see what any dweller there would want to escape, they also were aware of the imminent Welfare State that would bulldoze many of the cramped dirty little houses and better the lot of Mancunians.) Still, until that flowering, Vic is stuck in the tiny rooms he shares with his mother, father, older sister and two younger brothers, where no surface is undecorated in an anthology of kitsch and which the sister escapes when we see her posing for post-marriage photos on the steps of the blackened church entrance.

Essentially, A Kind of Loving comes down to a clash between Vic's hormones and his ambition. He not only gets pretty, compliant Ingrid, he gets her pregnant, which forces a marriage much earlier than either of them can handle. Money being in short supply, they move in with her mother - as played by the beloved Thora Hird, she's one of the great gorgons of British film, with her Jetson spectacle frames and an altogether unwarranted patronizing attitude, based presumably on the fact that she's one sliver above the Browns in their pathetic pecking order. She's the living embodiment of Penelope Gilliatt's great crack about the population of Britain consisting of sixty million experts on the class system. Inevitably, the marriage begins disintegrating fast, the low point coming when he returns drunk one night and vomits behind the sofa, as his mother-in-law shrieks "You come into this house drunk. Filthy drunk! You're filthy! You talk filth! You are filthy! You're filthy. You filthy disgusting pig. Filth! Filth!"

This is probably the place to say that Schlesinger and his cast find subtleties it would be easy to miss. He and Hird miraculously avoid the pitfalls of caricature, and in ways that never placate. We feel she loathes her son-in-law, but there's also something in her ferocity that communicates protectiveness of her daughter. Bates's subtleties are even more remarkable. The vomiting scene behind the couch and his crude and at time brutish treatment of Ingrid is never played for charming roguishness. But he communicates a soft side, too, most often around his parents and siblings in their confining but warm and loving quarters. As his parents, Bert Palmer and Gwen Nelson bolster the film importantly, especially Palmer. As a man who has spent his life working for British Railways, he's content with his lot, upbeat and chipper despite having lived through two world wars, a couple of economic depressions and most recently postwar austerity. It remains only to add that Ritchie, who went on to a long career in TV work, holds up her end of the collaboration, too, convincingly projecting unforeseen strengths of her own as Ingrid. The film wasn't a big hit, but Vic Brown is one of the best performances of Bates's distinguished career, and there's more to A Kind of Loving than many acknowledged.

Producer: Joseph Janni
Director: John Schlesinger
Screenplay: Willis Hall, Keith Waterhouse (screenplay); Stan Barstow (novel)
Cinematography: Denys Coop
Art Direction: Ray Simm
Music: Ron Grainer
Film Editing: Roger Cherrill
Cast: Alan Bates (Victor Arthur 'Vic' Brown), Thora Hird (Mrs. Rothwell), Bert Palmer (Mr. Geoffrey Brown), Pat Keen (Christine Harris), James Bolam (Jeff), Jack Smethurst (Conroy), Gwen Nelson (Mrs. Brown), John Ronane (Draughtsman), David Mahlowe (David Harris), Patsy Rowlands (Dorothy).

by Jay Carr

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