‘Anyone who doesn’t like jazz has no real feeling for music, or people...’
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where British kitchen sink drama began, but 1959’s Look Back in Anger is certainly one of the earliest examples. It is also notable for confirming Richard Burton’s star status despite the general consensus at the time that he was miscast here…
Jimmy Porter (Burton) is a rebellious and unhappy working-class man who has grown to loathe his more middle-class wife Alison (Mary Ure). Jimmy’s friend and business partner Cliff (Gary Raymond) also acts as a confidante for Alison, as does her friend Helena (Claire Bloom).
Look Back in Anger is an interesting film as it embodies the stuffy British cinema of the ’40s and ’50s through the tragic and sympathetic character of Alison, and the scrappy working-class characters that were about to become de rigueur through Jimmy. Based on John Osborne’s play, Tony Richardson’s film doesn’t seem to know whether Jimmy is a hero or a villain. Perhaps that’s the point. In Burton’s hands, the trumpet-playing, scenery-chewing Jimmy is at once magnetic and utterly loathsome – even if much of the character’s own loathing is directed inwards.
Richardson would go on to direct The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, another classic kitchen sink text, but in many ways, it is this film that is his definitive work. It’s an odd film, maybe that’s because it has aged, or maybe it was odd to begin with, but it is also compelling and captivating. Well worth a look.