Room at the Top (1958)

This drama of social mobility in a northern factory town proved a landmark British film thanks to director Jack Clayton’s mature treatment of sexuality and class.

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“Displays the tragedy of a man stuck in a rigid hierarchical society where ambition and enterprise are turned into self-destructive weapons.”
Robert Murphy, Sixties British Cinema, 1992

In mid-1950s Britain, writers and playwrights – many from working-class backgrounds – began to express discontent with the country’s apparent social stasis. This adaptation of John Braine’s novel was the first cinematic incarnation of this cultural phenomenon, dubbed the ‘Angry Young Men’. The film delivers a classic anti-hero in the form of Joe Lampton, whose ruthless drive proves his undoing.

Lithuanian-born, Johannesburg-raised Laurence Harvey was hardly obvious casting as a northerner from humble stock, but his abrasive demeanour proved effective, while the acting honours (and an Oscar) went to Simone Signoret as his ill-fated lover, facing rivalry from an industrialist’s daughter.

First-time director Clayton’s authentic locations and the film’s suggestion that sex might actually be pleasurable seem commonplace now, yet broke new ground at the time.

The film kicked off the British New Wave, beckoning in such classics as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), A Taste of Honey (1961) and Billy Liar (1963).

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