Reviewer: Freda Cooper
Director: John Schlesinger
Stars: Alan Bates, June Ritchie, Thora Hird
Released 1st August 2016
We’re getting something of a refresher course in the great British tradition of kitchen sink dramas. Last week saw the newly-restored version of Ken Loach’s ‘Poor Cow’ on DVD, at the weekend his ‘Cathy Come Home’ returned to TV screens. And this week ‘A Kind Of Loving’ also arrives on DVD.
It was a very British genre, one that spread across theatre, art and novels as well as cinema during the late 50s and most of the 60s, socially realistic and depicting the domestic lives of working people. Controversial social and political issues, such as homelessness, abortion and domestic violence, were all ripe for exploration. Which makes ‘A Kind Of Loving’ a classic of its type.
Vic Brown (Alan Bates) is a draughtsman at a Manchester company, dreaming of a bigger and better life but distracted by one of his female colleagues, Ingrid (June Ritchie). She completely falls for him and soon finds herself pregnant, so Vic agrees to do the right thing, albeit reluctantly, and marries her. Unable to afford a place of their own, the couple move in with her mother (Thora Hird) and Vic finds he’s been forced into a life he never wanted. So when Ingrid loses the baby, he wants out ….
It’s a film that introduced us to some significant British talents. This was the first feature film from John Schlesinger, who went on to make ‘Darling’ (1965), ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (1969) which won him an Oscar and ‘Marathon Man’ (1976). And he put two comparatively unknown faces in the leads. The rapidly rising Alan Bates had been in ‘The Entertainer’ (1960) and ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ (1961) in supporting roles, but this was this first time centre stage. And June Ritchie was making her big screen debut at the start of a career that saw her move into TV just a few years later.
Schlesinger loves to draw contrasts throughout the film. There’s the difference in background between Vic and Ingrid: he comes from a street of terraced houses in the shadow of the factory – it’s Lowry country – while she lives on a small estate of manicured 1930s semis well away from the grime of the city. But most significantly their wedding and the one for Vic’s sister, Christine, and her husband David are at opposite ends of the scale. Theirs is the opening sequence of the film, and it’s the proverbial dream ceremony. In a church, with the white dress, lots of confetti and all the neighbours turning out to watch: these were the days when a wedding was a social occasion for everybody, invited or not. The happy couple are swept away on their honeymoon in a limo and move into their own flat straight afterwards. For Vic and Ingrid, it’s a registry office, no white dress or confetti – his dad bins his little box when it goes unused – and off in a coach to Southport for a few days by the sea. No home of their own either: they have to live with Ingrid’s mother who has no time for Vic, or men in general.
On its release in 1962, ‘A Kind Of Loving’ had an X certificate, marking it out as daring and tackling controversial subjects. Little of that frissant is left as, compared to today’s films, it looks tame: there’s nothing more titillating than a view of June Richie’s bare back and the clear indication and that she’s naked. But this, of course, is a film set in the days when pregnancy outside marriage meant getting married as soon as possible and tying the knot in a registry office was usually taken as meaning that the couple “had to get married”. Which is exactly what happens here.
Its realistic depiction of British working society at the time – it was set and filmed in Manchester – as well as a juicy script from Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall and some cracking performances make the film one of the best from the British output of the early 60s. That script is full of local flavour, with the occasional flash of deadpan wit, and observed with pin-point accuracy. When Thora Hird (superb as Ingrid’s domineering and resentful mother) gives full vent to her loathing for Vic, she’s so angry she can only keep repeating one word. “Filthy.” And, as a former actor, Schlesinger gets equally powerful performances from Bates as the selfish, unlikeable Vic who isn’t mature enough to know what he wants from life, and Ritchie as the sheltered little princess who is so infatuated with him that she doesn’t realise that their relationship is based purely on sex.
Despite being over 50 years old, all its gloom, intensity, wit and warmth are all still there, all reinforced by the grimy black and white camerawork. Schlesinger treats the unhappy, mis-matched couple with compassion, even if we don’t exactly empathise with either of them. Do they get the happy ending they both want? We’re left to decide that for ourselves.