A Taste of Honey (film)
|A Taste of Honey|
|Directed by||Tony Richardson|
|Screenplay by||Shelagh Delaney|
|Based on||A Taste of Honey|
by Shelagh Delaney
|Produced by||Tony Richardson|
|Edited by||Antony Gibbs|
|Music by||John Addison|
|Distributed by||British Lion Films|
A Taste of Honey is a 1961 British film adaptation of the 1958 play of the same name by Shelagh Delaney. Delaney wrote the screenplay with director Tony Richardson, who had directed the play on the stage. It is an exemplar of a gritty genre of British film that has come to be called kitchen sink realism.
The story is set in a run-down, post-industrial area of Salford. Jo (Rita Tushingham) is a 17-year-old schoolgirl with a self-centred, promiscuous, alcoholic mother, Helen (Dora Bryan). The two of them frequently argue, and rarely stay in one home for long, since the mother runs up rent arrears, and is either evicted, or elects to abandon the property without settling any debts.
As they move into a shabby new flat, a young black sailor called Jimmy (Paul Danquah) sees Jo struggling with her suitcases and gives her some help. Helen brings a new man home after a night in the pub but her love life is curtailed because she has to share a bed with Jo.
A while later Jo badly grazes her knee in a fall as she is walking home from school. Limping along, she goes past the Manchester Ship Canal, where Jimmy happens to be coming off his ship. He sees Jo and invites her onboard to attend to her knee. They go dancing and on the return to his ship they kiss for the first time. This turns out to be the start of a brief romantic relationship, but Jimmy's ship soon sails and they part. Relations between Jo and her mother become further strained when her mother courts Peter Smith (Robert Stephens). Jo trails after them on a weekend in Blackpool. Peter gives Helen an ultimatum saying she must choose him or Jo and she sends Jo home alone. Helen remarries and moves to a suburban bungalow with Peter and leaves Jo to fend for herself. Jimmy is waiting when she returns to Salford and they spend a night together before he boards his ship in the morning. She watches him sail off.
Rejected by her mother, Jo leaves school, starts a job in a shoe shop and rents accommodation in an old workshop on her own. She meets a gay textile design student, Geoffrey Ingham (Murray Melvin), and invites him to live with her. Together they make the workshop more liveable. When Jo discovers she is pregnant by Jimmy, Geof is supportive, even offering to marry her, saying "You need somebody to love you while you're looking for somebody to love".
With Jo heavily pregnant, Geof tracks down Helen and tells her Jo is pregnant. Within minutes of reuniting the two of them have a row - calling each other whores. Helen offers Jo her home but Jo declines. However, after a few weeks her mother reappears - by now her rocky marriage has broken down and, ever needy, she is intent on moving in with Jo and pushing out Geof, with whom she has a shouting match. Geof leaves quietly. Helen says Geof has just popped out.
Despite her best instincts, Jo is amenable to her mother staying - with the birth imminent she has become frightened and feels a need for female company and know-how. She begrudgingly agrees to her mother moving in, but only on the basis that Geof remains. While Jo sleeps, however, Geof decides he can no longer stay at the workshop, and with Helen watching on approvingly, packs his bags and leaves a goodbye note for Jo. When Jo wakes up, she finds Geof has gone and she goes outside in the hope of catching him but sees only her mother, returning from the off-licence with some bottles of beer. Geof is seen hiding in the shadows beneath the stairs. He is hoping to have a chance to talk to Jo alone, but, seeing Helen returning, he is crestfallen and walks off. The film ends with Jo standing in the street watching a group of children singing "The Big Ship Sails on the Alley Alley Oh", and because it is bonfire night, a small child gives her a sparkler.
- Rita Tushingham as Jo
- Dora Bryan as Helen
- Robert Stephens as Peter Smith
- Murray Melvin as Geoffrey Ingham
- Paul Danquah as Jimmy
- Margo Cunningham as Landlady (uncredited)
- Michael Bilton as Landlord (uncredited)
- Hazel Blears and Stephen Blears as street urchins (uncredited)
Tushingham said in 2020 "A lot of the reaction was, 'People like that don’t exist' – by which they meant homosexuals, single mothers and people in mixed-race relationships. But they did." The film was banned in several countries.
Awards and honours
The film won four BAFTA awards: Delaney and Richardson won Best British Screenplay, and the film Best British Film. Bryan won Best Actress and Tushingham was named Most Promising Newcomer.
In spite of dealing with several topics then rarely touched on in Hollywood movies, the film won Tushingham a 1963 Golden Globe for Most Promising Female Newcomer and got Richardson a 1963 Directors Guild of America award nomination. Delaney and Richardson also won a Writers' Guild of Great Britain award.
- Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974, p. 124.
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- Petrie p 9
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