It really was grim up north in the 1960s – and if you want to know how grim, check out A Taste Of Honey.
This kitchensink classic appeared around three years after Shelagh Delaney’s play had its successful London debut – Tony Richardson responsible for taking it to the big screen, with Rita Tushingham taking the role of 17-year-old Joe and Dora Bryan as her hard-drinking mother Helen, both living a hand-to-mouth existence in Manchester. And when that hand goes empty, they do a midnight flit across town to another unsuspecting landlady.
But things are about to change. The loose living Helen has snared a younger man (Peter – Robert Stephens) and after a disastrous ‘family’ day out in Blackpool, Helen decides to leave her daughter, moving in with Peter is his upmarket home. But Jo has other problems too. After a brief relationship with a black sailor, she falls pregnant – and the father has left port for a jaunt around the world. She finds a job (in a shoe shop) and a place to live – not to mention a guardian angel in the form of the openly-gay Geoffrey. Will they form an unlikely family unit? Or will Helen return to ruin the domestic bliss?
Yes, just about every social taboo is tackled, with added gloom provided by those grimy inner-city streets. But despite all that, A Taste Of Honey isn’t a depressing flick. On the contrary, it’s actually a joyful movie about love, friendship and the ability to rise above the circumstances fate has dealt you. Tushingham is superb as the schoolgirl forced to grow up almost overnight, likewise Dora Bryan as the overbearing/heavy drinking (and scene-stealing) parent.
It’s also an incredibly brave movie. Remember, this was 1961, homosexuality was still illegal, single parents frowned upon, racism was rife and the idea of portraying anything but the perfect family unit on the big screen was almost unheard of. They’re all here – and while that makes it slightly unbelievable at times, none of the subject matter is treated sensationally. It’s just a shame the story couldn’t quite stretch to a happy ending…but as this is kitchensink, it’s not like you’ll be expecting one.
A 60s classic, indeed a movie classic and if you’ve any interest in classic British cinema, you really need to own this. The scenery of Manchester might have changed a bit, but this film is every bit as relevant today as it was 45+ years ago.