As I continue the Top Ten: Influential Female Film Characters, I wanted to look back a little further than my last John Hughes, Pretty in Pink post and explore a film which really inspired me throughout my studies. My love for social realism films, is something i've always manifested a particular interest in and my exploration of 'A Taste of Honey' is one that takes a nod at both my passion for theatre and film.
It’s 1961 and Britain has entered a defining era. Russia won the Space Race, Brian Epstein met The Beatles and the introduction of 'the pill' prompted a significant social shift, which provided personal and economic advances for women across the UK. It’s no secret that the 1960’s was a pivotal decade which sparked movements in counterculture and progressive thinking, but it’s a focus on these ideologies and their significance in film which has been fundamental in forging our understanding and appreciation of British cinema today.
British contributions to cinema and the remarkable rise of the ‘Kitchen Sink’ drama in the 1960’s provided film-makers and playwrights with a playing field to produce films which were socially aware, angry and honest. Contrary to the romantic formalities of films farmed out of the studio systems, this new genre of social realism provided audiences with strong, female characters who used their voice to air social and political issues and contend the frustrations felt by the forgotten class in post-war Britain.
Paul Danquah and Rita Tushingham as Jimmy and Jo in 'A Taste of Honey' (1961)
Shelagh Delaney was 18 when she first wrote ‘A Taste of Honey’ for the theatre and in 1958, less than a year after its completion it proved to be an unexpected success in London and New York. The play's raw and unorthodox themes underpinned Delaney’s personal perception of the World on her doorstep, motivated by thoughtful representations of the working-class customs of a life in Manchester.
Both Murray Melvin and Rita Tushingham were praised for their performances in 'A Taste of Honey' (1961)
In 1961, ‘A Taste of Honey’ made the transition from theatre to film, directed by British New Wave veteran Tony Richardson. It would be Rita Tushingham’s portrayal of protagonist ‘Jo’, which would stay with me forever. Sheilagh Delaney’s construction of the Salford schoolgirl, is one which combats painful adolescence with optimism throughout an insightful narrative. Themes of inter-racial relationships, sexuality, neglect and addiction are all explored in such a way that is refined and genuine. Rather than shy away from Jo’s naivety, Delaney preys on her vulnerabilities, ensuring that they are personally explored on her pending journey to motherhood, boldly outlined by the realization of the world around her.
With a raw dialogue and the touching character relation between herself and her best friend Geoffrey (Murray Melvin), Jo will always remain one of the most influential female characters in film, as far as I am concerned. Her influence on artists, playwrights and film-makers today cemented Delaney’s intention to challenge stigma and traditions with authenticity and gusto. Jo is an organic icon in social realism cinema, unpolished and unapologetic – she’s ‘bloody marvellous’.