A TASTE OF HONEY directed by Tony Richardson (UK, 1961)
Shelagh Delaney’s unsentimental view of procreation puts the hearts and flowers romance of Valentine’s Day into proper perspective : “It’s chaotic – a bit of love, a bit of lust and there you are. We don’t ask for life, we have it thrust upon us”.
Lines like these help explain why A Taste of Honey retains its contemporary edge more than half a century after it was first performed.
London’s National Theatre are about to stage a new version to bring the play’s honest, down to earth characters to a new generation of theatre goers.
No prizes too for guessing why Delaney was such a formative influence on the young Steven Patrick Morrissey.
Labelling A Taste of Honey as a ‘kitchen sink realism’ might lead you expect a mundane and bleak drama. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a play (and movie) that fizzes with energy and humourously challenges popular preconceptions about so-called ‘ordinary’ working class lives in Northern Britain.
It’s main characters are Helen – a promiscuous. heavy-drinking single mother, Jo – a lonely and soon to be pregnant teenager, Jimmy – Jo’s black boyfriend and Geoffrey – a lonely gay man seeking maternal affection. Any one of these could be the basis for an earnest exploration of racial and gender based themes but, with all the impetuousness of youth, Delaney put them all into one story. In so doing, she challenged the safe, conservative values of the theatrical establishment and Tony Richardson’s faithful movie adaptation has been equally influential.
The play was written when Delaney was 18 and with sublime synchronicity Rita Tushingham made her onscreen debut as Jo aged just 19. It is her naturalistic, unmannered performance that gives the movie its freshness and vitality. The love-hate relationship with her mother (played by Dora Bryan) produces hilarious scenes that are also sad and touching. Her platonic friendship with Geoffrey is free of the usual stereotypical presentations of loneliness and homosexuality.
There are just some of the many reasons why you should see a film which I placed at number 35 in my Best of British Cult Movies.