6. The L-Shaped Room (Bryan Forbes, 1962)
Leslie Caron, a star of such musical films as Daddy Long Legs and Gigi, turned to playing a much more demanding role for this bleak picture adapted from a novel by Lynne Reid Banks. It is therefore another example of a break from kitchen-sink tradition which was founded upon plays and novels of “angry young men”.
Caron plays Jane, a pregnant French woman who moves into the titular room of a London boarding house. While spending time there, she meets an assortment of outcasts, despite being initially reserved. She enters a sexual relationship with one of them, Toby (Tom Bell), a jazz musician and struggling writer, without revealing her condition to him in a fear of losing him.
She is inadvertently persuaded into having the baby by her gynecologist, after his remark that abortion and marriage are the only two options. She makes that decision, however, without proper deliberation and a plan for the future.
Due to mature content to an extent that was unusual at the time, the picture was considered controversial. However, one shouldn’t fall into error and think of it as a sexploitation flick. Its story is quite dreary and the depiction of marginalized people and their predicament is candid.
7. A Kind of Loving (John Schlesinger, 1962)
The title of the film seems like a cynical constant reminder of the arrangement the presented couple has to settle for, as opposed to characters from romantic movies, who find that no obstacle is large enough for their powerful love. Unlike these idealized couples, Vic and Ingrid only seem to suffer more with each obstacle faced upon them.
Vic (Alan Bates) is employed as a draughtsman at a local factory. After his sister’s wedding, he sees Ingrid (June Ritchie) – a girl who works as a typist at the same factory – in the crowd outside the church. He is completely enamored by her, and he eventually musters courage to approach her during a bus ride home from work one day, under the pretext of forgetting his money for the fare. What starts as a casual relationship is soon dramatically changed when Ingrid gets pregnant.
Vic comes from a working class background, being the son of an engine driver, but has managed to improve his position by working a white-collar job, albeit in an industrial town. The main theme of the film is the conflict between desire and responsibility, a much examined topic in kitchen-sink films. Still, what Schlesinger succeeds in is making believable characters, both relatable but visibly imperfect. It questions the constraints placed upon young couples and society’s expectations towards them.
8. This Sporting Life (Lindsay Anderson, 1963)
Long before he was Dumbledore, Richard Harris was Frank Machin, a strong and ill-tempered coal miner who becomes the attention of a local rugby club’s management, after a nightclub brawl with the team captain and some others. Exploiting his mean streak, the manager signs him up to the team, where his violent performance impresses the team’s owner, Weaver (Alan Badel).
Underneath all this violence, however, is a man with crude but nevertheless romantic desires directed at his recently widowed landlady, Margaret (Rachel Roberts). Her husband died in an accident at Weaver’s engineering company, and lost the right to a compensation due to the death being ruled a suicide. Their unfortunate romance is mostly marred by his boorish behavior and inability to articulate his feelings.
The structure of the film is especially interesting due to its use of flashbacks, similar to The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, but even employing one from the very start. They serve as a narrative device which effectively juxtaposes various points of Frank’s career and private life. In its essence, it is a story of exploitation and vulnerability masked as toughness.
Aside from launching Richard Harris’ as a star, this was a breakthrough project for director Lindsay Anderson as well. Still, it did not do too well at the box office, and he had to wait until 1968 for his success with If…, but it is regarded today as a classic of kitchen-sink realism.
9. A Place To Go (Basil Dearden, 1963)
This versatile director behind such diverse films as Khartoum and The League of Gentlemen is behind the camera on this rarely mentioned kitchen-sink picture. There is reason behind this lack of appreciation.
Although it had a reasonably famous cast, starring Bernard Lee (L Shaped Room, as well as M in Bond movies), Mike Sarne (actor and pop singer at the time), and Rita Tushingham from A Taste of Honey, the acting was criticized as uninspired, and with a somewhat underdeveloped storyline, it failed to achieve much popularity.
Albeit, Deardens choice of subject is illustrative because it shows how popular kitchen sink films were at the time. Although, to be fair, he did have a history of controversial subject matter. In the previous decade, he tackled previously untouched topics such as homosexuality and race relations. This is one of rarer films that focus on an entire family instead of just the personal struggles of one character.
The Flints live in the crowded slums of Bethnal Green, between the bombed-out ruins and council flats. The father left his job to be an escape artist, the daughter is expecting and wants a place for her own little family, while the son is turning to crime under the influence of a local gangster.
Despite being conventional in its approach to many burning issues, its distinction lies in its choice of protagonists, as well as the inclusion of organized crime as a by-product of impoverished areas.
10. Poor Cow (Ken Loach, 1967)
Loach’s first feature film, it has firmly established the approach that will dominate his pictures in the following years. This is another film with a female protagonist, but its outlook is much less forgiving. Joy (Carol White) is a London woman who lacks opportunities to escape an abusive relationship. She has a son with Tom, her husband and a petty thief (John Bindon), who abuses her occasionally.
When he goes to jail, there is a brief opportunity for her to improve her position by getting together with his friend. However, he – although tender to her – also gets arrested due to his criminal activities. She bounces from one place to another, each worse than the last, but eventually comes full circle.
This is the first kitchen-sink film to utilize a color palette, thus changing the aesthetic which unconsciously dominated the movement in the previous decade. A change in style also involves usage of contemporary pop music, notably Donovan’s songs, ironic intertitle cards, as well as a liberal amount of footage not relevant to the story, such as people drinking in a pub.
Although Loach is trying to stay within the framework of social-realism throughout his career, his later films usually have a more overtly political message, leading to the author being called a propagandist on many occasions.
Special Mention: Billy Liar (John Schlesinger, 1963)
Despite usually being classified as a kitchen sink film, and a masterpiece at that, Billy Liar somewhat diverges from the tacit conventions of the movement. It is essentially a story about life in a dull, constrained environment, but with frequent flights to the imagination of the protagonist, a clerk in a undertaker’s office.
Billy, played by Tom Courtenay, has a vivid imagination which leads to occasional flights to Ambrosia, a land of his own invention where he can play whichever role he chooses. He’s engaged with two girls at the same time, but it is the free-spirited Liz (Julie Christy) who really tickles his fancy, perhaps by being someone who can escape her drab surroundings in reality, and not only fantasy.
Although the overall style of the film is an attempt at realism as any other kitchen-sink drama, Billy’s imagination provides us with comic relief and surreal situations, both uncommon to such an extent in other films of the movement.
Author Bio: Ivan Maksimović is a recent anthropology graduate from Serbia, currently doing an internship in a museum. He views film as an important outlet for ideas, especially those regarding social problems.