One of the seminal British kitchen sink dramas of the 60’s, A Taste of Honey, resounds today on the strength of Rita Tushingham’s delightful screen debut and author Shelagh Delany’s taboo-confronting script which looks at interracial romance, homosexuality and teen pregnancy with delicate earthy realism.
A Taste of Honey (1962) dir. Tony Richardson
Starring: Rita Tushingham, Dora Bryan, Robert Stephens, Murray Melvin
By Alan Bacchus
Before Doctor Zhivago, The Knack… and a host of other British classics of the decade Rita Tushingham burst into our consciousness with her role of Jo, a plucky 17 year old burdened with an irresponsible and emotionally erratic mother Helen (Dora Bryan). With Guilietta Masina-like adorableness Jo wanders through the stone jungle of industrial Manchester with a kind of imperviousness to her lifelong working class plight.
When Jo meets Jimmy an attractive black transient sailor, a love affair ensues. As quickly as it came, it goes, leaving Jo alone and pregnant. Enter Geoffrey, a quiet design student, unstated homosexuality who provide Jo with the comfort she desperately needs. Jo's bratty mother re-enters the fray when her loathsome male companion abandons her. But the threesome of Geoffrey, Jo and Helen are an unmerry bunch, and bicker to the bitter end in the manner of the best British kitchen sink films.
With today's eyes it's not hard to marvel at the stark industrial beauty of Walter Lassally's black and white cinematography. Richardson, Lassally and his design team are careful to place Jo, Geoffrey and Jimmy in the exterior as much as possible allowing the iconic landscape of the city to blanket the characters.
But film resounds strongly today's for the topical themes of the socio-political issues above. While present and important to the motivations of the characters, the film is not about homosexuality or racism, as a heart-on-sleeve Stanley Kramer film might have been. Writer Delany treats her issues as matter of fact components of modern life.
A Taste of Honey is available on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection