Directed by John Schlesinger
Starring Alan Bates, June Ritchie, Thora Hird,
Released on 1st August 2016
If you remember X certificate movies, then chances are you’ll remember the 1962 film of Stan Barstow’s A Kind Of Loving, one of the kitchen sink dramas of the time, showing ordinary life for working people and often set in the industrial north.
John Schlesinger, in his first feature – he went on to make Darling (1965), Midnight Cowboy (1969) which won him an Oscar and Marathon Man (1976) – chose to shoot the film in its original Manchester setting and put two relative unknowns in the leads. Rapidly rising star Alan Bates had been in The Entertainer (1960) and Whistle Down The Wind (1961), but here took centre stage as Vic, a young draughtsman for a large local company, who takes a fancy to one of his female colleagues, Ingrid (newcomer June Ritchie). The young girl falls in love with him, finds herself pregnant and Vic reluctantly agrees to marry her. The couple have to live with her mother (Thora Hird) and Vic soon finds himself forced into a life he never wanted. When Ingrid loses the baby, he wants out ……
The film starts with a wedding. It’s a church one, with the white dress and all the neighbours turning as they did in the days when a wedding was a social occasion for everybody, invited or not. The couple are showered with confetti, drive off in limos and move into their own flat straight away. It’s the perfect day and it belongs to Vic’s big sister, Christine (Pat Keen) and husband David (David Mahlowe). Vic adores her and admits to himself that he’s always wanted somebody just like her, but he takes up with her complete opposite. Ingrid is just 19, an over-protected only child and young for her age. When they marry, it’s the complete opposite: registry office, no white dress or confetti and leaving by coach for a few days in Southport. No flat for them either, but living with her mother who has no time for Vic or men in general.
It’s a film of contrasts all the way through. Vic’s family lives in a street of terraced houses in the shadow of the factories. It’s Lowry country, and the black and white camera work accentuates the grime and smoke that everybody seems to accept as the norm. He has aspirations for something greater and his job could be his way out. Unlike his dad, an engine driver, he works in an office and wears a collar and tie to work. Ingrid, on the other hand, lives on a small estate of manicured 1930s semis well away from the city, its noise and its dirt.
In their day, X certificate films were regarded as daring and came with a certain frissant, the expectation of something edgier. But compared to today’s films, they look tame and A Kind Of Loving contains nothing more titillating than a view of June Ritchie’s bare back and the implication that she’s supposed to be naked. That said, it’s also set in the days when pregnancy outside of marriage meant a quick wedding – and tying the knot in a registry office was usually taken as meaning the couple “had to get married”.
Yet, while it’s very much a film of its day, A Kind Of Loving is still one of the best British films from the early 60s. The script from Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall is taut as a drum, full of local flavour and with the occasional flash of deadpan wit. Watch for the girl who rejects James Bolam’s chat up lines at the company dance. It’s also brilliantly observed, especially when Thora Hird (superb as Ingrid’s domineering mother) gives full vent to her loathing for Vic but is so angry she can only keep repeating the word “filthy.”
And Schlesinger, a former actor, demonstrates from the word go that he’s a master of getting great performances from his cast, from Bates as the selfish dreamer who isn’t mature enough to know what he wants from life and has his choices made for him, to Ritchie’s sheltered little princess. While she adores him, he alternates between lust and indifference, usually when she chatters on about things that don’t interest him. There’s other familiar faces in supporting roles: Bolam as a forerunner of Terry in The Likely Lads, Leonard Rossiter as a pompous work colleague and uncredited turns from Bryan Mosley (Coronation Street’s Alf Roberts) and Kathy Staff (Last Of The Summer Wine’s formidable Nora Batty).
Brooding and gloomy, intense and absorbing but with wit and warmth, A Kind Of Loving stands tall, despite being over 50 years old. Schlesinger treats the unhappy couple with compassion, but still leaves us to decide whether or not they find a kind of loving in what’s left of their marriage.
A Kind Of Loving is released today on DVD and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 4 August.