Look at Britain - 2 We Are the Lambeth Boys (1959)

This energetic documentary was one of the last films to appear under the banner of the Free Cinema movement.

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One of the key elements of the Free Cinema films was the sympathetic representation of working-class people, something the filmmakers felt was lacking in contemporary British cinema. Here, members of Kennington’s Alford House youth club talk about their lives and interests.

By avoiding a strict narrative, We are the Lambeth Boys gives its subjects space to express their frustrations and aspirations, allowing the youngsters a voice and sensitively capturing the nuances of their daily lives. At the same time, director Karel Reisz challenges the media stereotypes of ‘Teddy Boys’ as violent thugs.

The film’s one disappointing feature is a slightly patronising commentary. Earlier Free Cinema films had resisted using a narrator, but here it was imposed by the sponsor, Ford Motor Cars, making it a more conventional documentary than it might have been.

We Are the Lambeth Boys was a big success at its first London screenings, and went on to win the Grand Prix at the Tours short film festival in France and to represent Britain at the Venice film festival. By then, director Reisz had already moved on to make his first feature, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1961).

Lindsay Anderson’s Every Day Except Christmas (1957) was also furnished with a narrator at Ford’s insistence, though arguably a more effective one than here. Karel Reisz’s earlier Free Cinema film, Momma Don’t Allow (co-directed with Tony Richardson, 1956), also had a youth theme.

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