Look Back in Anger (1959 film)

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Look Back in Anger
Looking back moviep.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTony Richardson
Produced byHarry Saltzman
Gordon Scott
Written byNigel Kneale
Based onLook Back in Anger
by John Osborne
StarringRichard Burton
Claire Bloom
Mary Ure
Edith Evans
Music byChris Barber
CinematographyOswald Morris
Edited byRichard Best
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
15 September 1959 (1959-09-15)[1]
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$1.1 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[3]

Look Back in Anger is a 1959 British drama film starring Richard Burton, Claire Bloom and Mary Ure and directed by Tony Richardson. The film is based on John Osborne's eponymous play about a love triangle involving an intelligent but disaffected young man (Jimmy Porter), his upper-middle-class, impassive wife (Alison), and her snooty best friend (Helena Charles). Cliff, an amiable Welsh lodger, attempts to keep the peace. The character of Ma Tanner, only referred to in the play, is here brought to life by Edith Evans as a dramatic device to emphasise the class difference between Jimmy and Alison. The film and play are classic examples of the British cultural movement known as kitchen sink realism.


Jimmy and Alison Porter, a young married couple, live in a Midlands industrial town (Derby) in a shabby attic flat, which they share with Jimmy’s best friend and business partner, Cliff. Despite his working-class background, Jimmy graduated from university, but has not pursued a professional career. He and Cliff make a meager living running a sweet-stall in the local market. Jimmy’s inability to climb the socioeconomic ladder, coupled with other injustices he sees around him (such as the harassment of an Indian immigrant stall operator) make him angry at society, particularly the upper classes. He takes out his frustrations by mocking and dominating his wife Alison, a submissive girl from an upper-class family. Jimmy's love for Alison is mixed with contempt at her privileged life, as he feels she never had to experience want, pain or suffering. He verbally abuses her, including telling her that he wishes she would have a child that would die. Unbeknown to Jimmy, Alison is pregnant, and having mixed feelings about the pregnancy and her marriage.

Jimmy is most comfortable around working-class people such as Cliff and Ma Tanner, an elderly woman who has been a mother figure for him and loaned him the money to open his stall. While Jimmy is visiting with Ma Tanner at a local pub, Alison unsuccessfully attempts to tell him about her pregnancy, but cannot get his attention. Jimmy becomes annoyed with Alison for not being more sociable with Ma Tanner. Tensions heighten between the couple when Alison invites her assertive friend Helena, whom Jimmy loathes, to temporarily stay with them. After witnessing Jimmy's treatment of Alison, Helena convinces Alison to leave Jimmy on the same day that Ma Tanner has a fatal stroke. While Jimmy keeps vigil at Ma Tanner's hospital deathbed, Alison moves out and departs with her kindly father, Colonel Redfern, who has come to collect her. A grieving Jimmy returns to the flat to find Alison gone, and learns for the first time that she is pregnant. He starts an emotional tirade with Helena, who first slaps him but then kisses him passionately, and the two begin an affair.

Months later, Jimmy and Helena have settled into a comfortable relationship, and get along better than he and Alison did, but Jimmy is still hurt at Alison’s departure. Alison, now living in her parents' comparatively luxurious home, is having a precarious pregnancy, raising the possibility that Jimmy's wish for her to suffer tragedy might come true. Cliff decides to strike out on his own, and Jimmy and Helena see him off at the train station. After Cliff's train departs, Jimmy and Helena see Alison sitting disconsolately in the station. Alison explains to Helena that she has lost the baby and Helena, realizing that she was wrong to break up their marriage, informs Jimmy that she is leaving him. Jimmy and Alison reconcile.



The film was nominated in 4 categories in the 1959 BAFTA Awards. Best British Actor (Richard Burton); Best British Film; Best British Screenplay (Nigel Kneale); Best Film from any Source. The eventual winners in these categories were Peter Sellers (I'm All Right Jack); Sapphire; Frank Harvey, John Boulting and Alan Hackney for I'm All Right Jack; Ben-Hur. Burton was also nominated as Best Motion Picture Actor – Drama in the 1959 Golden Globes. The eventual winner was Anthony Franciosa in Career.


Interiors were shot at Elstree Studios in September 1958. Some establishing shots were shot in Derby but the market scenes were shot in Deptford market; the railway station was Dalston Junction. Deptford and Dalston are in fact in the London area. The first market scenes were shot in the centre of Romford Market, Romford, Essex (now in the east London Borough of Havering).

The scenes showing the street outside Jimmy and Alison Porter's flat were filmed in Harvist Road, London N7. This cannot be referenced, as I am making a statement from memory. I was present as my uncle and his family lived in the street and we watched the filming from my uncle's house.

Harvist Road was later demolished by Islington Borough Council and rebuilt as the Harvist Estate.


Look Back in Anger was produced by the Canadian impresario Harry Saltzman, who was seen an obvious choice since he was a fan of the play and it was he who urged Osborne and Richardson to set up Woodfall Film Productions. The film was to be Woodfall's first production.

Osborne insisted, against resistance from Saltzman, that Richardson was the right man to direct the film.[4] He had directed the original theatrical production but had no track record in feature films. The original backers, J. Arthur Rank, pulled out of the deal because of the choice of director.

Saltzman and Richardson persuaded Richard Burton to take on the title role, at a much lower fee than his accustomed Hollywood payoff. History does not record what Kenneth Haigh, who had created the role, thought of this. The idea of getting Nigel Kneale to extend the play into a screenplay is credited to the influential theatre critic Kenneth Tynan (who was in large part responsible for the incredible success of the play). Osborne was relieved at not having to do the job and handed over story rights for a mere £2,000.[5]

Some of the minor casting is of historical interest. The part of the doctor was specially created for George Devine, the artistic director of the English Stage Company and the man to whom Osborne most owed his success. Glen Byam Shaw, a long-time collaborator of Devine's (they created the Young Vic Company) was handed the role of Colonel Redfern. Two other members of the English Stage Company, Nigel Davenport and Alfred Lynch, were given small roles as barflies who try to pick up Alison and Helena in the railway station bar. The Chris Barber jazz band appears in the opening scenes set at a jazz club.

The film was not at first successful. Westminster Council gave it an X certificate and it opened on 29 May 1959 during one of London's rare heatwaves.[6] Tim Adler wrote that Richardson never found out whether or not his first feature film made a profit.[7] Burton was widely felt to be too old and mature-looking for the young character he played.

DVD version[edit]

The DVD was released in 2001 in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1.


  • Osborne, John (1991). Almost a Gentleman. London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 0-571-16635-0.
  • Adler, Tim (2012). The House of Redgrave. London: Aurum. ISBN 978-1-84513-623-9.
  • Richardson, Tony (1993). Long Distance Runner – A memoir. London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 0-571-16852-3.


  1. ^ "Overview". TCM. Retrieved 23 April 2016.
  2. ^ Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p59
  3. ^ "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  4. ^ He wrote "This was based not on blind loyalty but on my untutored faith in his flair and his being the only possible commander to lead Woodfall's opening assault on the suburban vapidity of British film-making". (Osborne, p. 107)
  5. ^ Osborne, p.108
  6. ^ Richardson 1993
  7. ^ Adler, p.70

External links[edit]