A Taste of Honey (1961)


Director – Tony Richardson

Producer – Tony Richardson

Writers – Shelagh Delaney

Manchester in the 1960s was a place of poverty and upheaval. Young schoolgirl Jo (Rita Tushingham) and her flashy yet poor mother Ellen (Dora Bryan) have to move to a new residence, run down and replete with peeling wallpaper and a single, unshaded lightbulb. Here they try to get by in the cramped, claustrophoic conditions. Jo is cynical about her mother’s string of unsuitable boyfriends, and is despondent because she can’t afford nice clothes to go out to meet boys herself. Underachieving at school, she harbours artistic aspirations, but keeps her creative light under a bushel. She happens to meet an endearing ship’s cook named Jimmy (Paul Danquah) while walking alongside one of the canals, and a sweet romance blossoms. This is counterpointed by her mother’s more lurid relationship with the flirtatious Peter (Robert Stephens). An affectionate connection between Jo and Jimmy grows, bleakly set against the grim, gritty northern backdrops. The issue of racial prejudice and tensions arises, since Jimmy is black, although was himself born in Liverpool, and is dealt with in a considered, sensitive and tactful manner for the time. A trip to Blackpool with her mother and Peter arises, but Jo is unimpressed by the tacky, tawdry tedium. Tempers become frayed, and Jo eventually throws a tantrum to berate Peter, but in turn gets rejected by her mother and is made to go home by herself, which she does distraught. She meets up with her boyfriend Jimmy again, but after a brief rendezvous, he tells her that he has to leave on his ship.

Jo’s mother plans to marry Peter, and leaves Jo to her own devices, who herself finds thankless work in a shoe shop. While watching a street parade she meets a new friend named Geoff (Murray Melvin), who she spends her spare time with. They become close, but Jo has an important confession to make. Geoff is considerate enough to help her out with her dilemma, conscientiously finding out how to care for and comfort her, but this is seen as effeminate and soppy, and there are questions about Geoff’s sexuality, another taboo that is delicately dealt with.

Fears about the future frustrate the Jo and her mother. The turbulent relationship between them, doomed or blessed to make the same mistakes, is beautifully depicted in its raw, tender way, that doesn’t embellish or romanticise, it is given an honest, brutally accurate representation. We see a young girl coming of age in the real world, and some of the difficulties that she has to face. This film asks many tough, serious questions, and reveals them with a mesmerising, heart-felt poignancy.


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