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Ranking the best of Woodfall: A Revolution In British Cinema

Ranking the best of Woodfall: A Revolution In British Cinema

Ranking The Best Of Woodfall: A Revolution In British Cinema
By QUAD Film Officer, Rebekah Taylor

For Christmas, I was given the BFI ’s 9 Disc blu-ray set Woodfall: A Revolution In British Cinema that marked the 60th anniversary of the start of the Woodfall Film Production company. The production company was started by playwright John Osborne, theatre director Tony Richardson and producer Harry Saltzman and would go on to make twenty-one films. The BFI Blu-ray boxset features eight films from the production company including some of the best examples of the British New Wave movement. I thought there is no better time than now to give them my ranking.

1. The Entertainer (1960)

The Entertainer is number one on my list as I still find it entertaining (no pun intended) regardless of the many times that I’ve seen it. Written by John Osborne and originally a play at the Royal Court Theatre the film brought across its main stage star Laurence Olivier in the role of Archie Rice. The film follows failed seaside entertainer Archie Rice (Laurence Olivier) as he struggles to cling onto the outdated music hall scene. With a failing show and seeking to finance another Archie Rice tries to escape his life back at home ,with his wife Phoebe (Brenda de Banzie) who is worried about the return of their solider son Mitch (Albert Finney) from the Suez crisis, his elderly father Billy (Roger Livesey) who constantly reminds him of his failures and his only daughter Jean (Joan Plowright) who is back in town from London.

Unlike some of the films in this list the male protagonist Archie is seen as a pathetic character by those around him. He comes across as seedy when he seduces a young Tina (Shirley Anne Field) in order for her parents to finance his new show, which backfires leaving Archie to face the consequences alone. The film remains one of my favourites from the British New Wave due to its witty dialogue and great performances from the ensemble cast.

Available to purchase and stream on Amazon Prime Video and BFI Player.

2. A Taste of Honey (1961)

A Taste Of Honey is another film that started it its roots as a play, this time by young playwright Shelagh Delaney. The film follows Jo (Rita Tushingham) as a young teenaged girl who is neglected by her mother Helen (Dora Byran) after she goes to live with her younger lover. Jo starts to develop a friendship with the young Geoffrey (Murray Melvin) and they create a home together after Jo discovers that she is pregnant following a relationship she had with a black sailor. Forward for its time the film explores sexual and racial identity as well as social class issues. What I like most about the film is how it combines both the coming of age aspect while exploring themes that were rarely addressed in British cinema at the time. It’s been a while since I’d seen the film but I was still left questioning at the end about Jo’s wellbeing under the reinstated guardianship of her mother Helen.

Available to purchase and stream on Amazon Prime Video and BFI Player.

3. Look Back In Anger (1959)

Osbourne’s Look Back In Anger played at the Royal Court in 1956 and is probably the play that springs to mind when you define the “angry young man” movement. Kenneth Haigh who played the protagonist Jimmy in the stage adaption was replaced by Richard Burton for the film. Set in an unidentifiable East Midlands town but loosely based on Osbourne’s own experiences living in Derby, the majority of the film takes place in a cramped flat with Jimmy (Richard Burton) his oppressed wife Alison (Mary Ure) and Jimmy’s friend from university Cliff (Gary Raymond).

Jimmy is angry and frustrated about the lack of opportunities given to him and takes out his anger on wife Alison. When Alison’s friend Helena (Claire Bloom) comes to live in the flat things only intensify.

Watching the film for the first time in recent years I think Ure and Bloom’s performances as Alison and Helena are strong, but I don't think Richard Burton was right for the role of Jimmy. Being in his late 30’s when filming he’s slightly too old for the role and not very convincing as the working-class anti-hero. As a contemporary viewer the strong misogynistic attitudes that are present in the film are slightly unsettling. The film focuses on Jimmy’s emotions but disregards the treatment of Alison by both Jimmy and Helena.

Available to purchase and stream on Amazon Prime Video and BFI Player.

4. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is based on the novel by Nottingham born author Alan Sillitoe. Set in Nottingham and featuring many external shots of the city the film follows Arthur Seaton (Albert Finney) who works at the Nottingham based Raleigh Bicycle factory. Dissatisfied with the opportunities in his life and refusing to settle down, he strikes up an affair with the older Brenda (Rachel Roberts) resulting in a pregnancy as well as starting a relationship with the younger Doreen (Shirley Anne Field). This was the first time that I had seen the film from start to finish and enjoyed Finney’s performance as Arthur. Although Arthur is another “angry young man” archetype, with little regard to the thoughts of feelings of the women around them, as it’s obvious that Arthur hasn’t considered the impact that his behaviour has on both Brenda and Doreen.

Available to purchase and stream on Amazon Prime Video and BFI Player.

5. The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner (1962)

The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is based on a short story by author Alan Sillitoe and follows the life of Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay), a poor working class youth from Nottingham who gets sent to a youth detention centre for committing a petty crime. There he discovers his talent for long distance running. The film interchanges between flashbacks of his troubled home life and Colin’s time at the Ruxton Towers detention centre. Although I found the pace slightly slow, I liked the coming of age aspect of the film and sympathised with Colin’s and his resentment towards the establishment. In the end Colin is able to get his revenge on his superiors in a form of representing Ruxton Towers in of a long distance race against a public school.

Available to purchase and stream on Amazon Prime Video and BFI Player.

6. Tom Jones (1963)

A lighter Woodfall film that is a contrast from the other films is Tom Jones adapted by John Osbourne from Henry Fielding’s epic novel “The History of Tom Jones” the film went on to win four Oscars including Best Picture at the 1964 academy awards. The film follows Albert Finney in the titled role of Tom, a free-spirited wealthy playboy in 18th Century Somerset, and was a departure to the previous gritty Woodfall films that explore British realism. Although Tom Jones is a period film it is still a reflection of the times in which it was made and could be defined as a sex comedy. British sex comedies tended to show a more free-spirited and looseness of female sexuality, a break from the oppressed and dissatisfied female characters in Woodfall’s earlier films. I enjoyed watching it for the first time and while it made a refreshing change from the bleakness that features in the other Woodfall Films, it was too shallow and that’s why it is lower down on my list.

Available to purchase and steam on Amazon Prime Video and BFI Player.

7. Girl With Green Eyes (1964)

Girl With Green Eyes is based on author Edna O’Brien’s semi-biographical novel “The Lonely Girl”. The film follows Kate Brady (Rita Tushingham) a young girl from the Irish countryside who falls for an older man when she moves to Dublin. I was looking forward to watching this as I’d seen Zee and Co (1972) also based on a Edna O’Brien novel a few years back. I really enjoyed the opening montage in which best friends Kate (Tushingham) and Baba (Lynn Redgrave) are getting ready for a night out. The montage shows them putting their make-up on and having drinks whilst setting off to meet some male friends. I found the montage reminiscent of a routine that I would do with friends on a night out and it set the tone of the film as lighthearted and fun. However, the film then changes focus when Kate’s relationship with the older Eugene Gaillard (Peter Finch) starts to develop. I started to wish throughout that Kate won’t be so transfixed on Eugene and have fun but I was happy that by the end Kate’s focus was back to having fun with Baba.

Available to purchase and stream on Amazon Prime Video and BFI Player.

8. The Knack...and How to Get It (1965)

Like Tom Jones, The Knack… and How To Get It is another example of the changing attitudes towards femininity in the 1960s as well as the emerging youth subcultures. Based on Ann Jellicoe's 1962 play The Knack the film was made in between director Richard Lester’s two Beatles films A Hard Days Night (1964) and Help! (1965) and won the prestigious Palme d’Or at 1965 Cannes Film Festival. The film follows housemates Colin (Michael Crawford) an awkward schoolteacher and Tolen (Ray Brooks) a ladies man living in the backdrop of Swinging London. The film looks at the contrast between the new found sexual liberation of the young generation with the previous generations. When Nancy (Rita Tushingham) arrives to London and offers to help both Coilin and Tolen move a giant bedpost to their house a power struggle occurs as they fight for her advances.

I liked the avant-garde influences with the reverse motion and jump cut effects. However, the casual treatment of Nancy’s allegations of rape seemed too dated for a contemporary viewer and therefore is last on my list.

Available to purchase and stream on Amazon Prime Video