A bare plot outline is incapable of indicating the qualities of Look Back in Anger: they derive from the impetus of Jimmy’s anger, the power of its expression, the honesty with which the writing hacks its way through an emotional jungle.
Certificate PG 1h 38min
Director Tony Richardson
Jimmy Porter Richard Burton
Helena Charles Claire Bloom
Alison Porter Mary Ure
Mrs ‘Ma’ Tanner Edith Evans
Cliff Gary Raymond
Colonel Redfern Glen Byam Shaw
doctor George Devine
Hurst Donald Pleasence
Mrs Redfern Phyllis Neilson-Terry
Miss Drury Jane Eccles
Kapoor S.P. Kapoor
Original UK release date 28 May 1959
UK re-release date 30 March 2018
Nigel Kneale’s adaptation, technically an extraordinarily clever one, sacrifices the claustrophobic tensions of the play, the long speeches in which Jimmy Porter defines his aggressions, but gives more weight to the personal drama. As an expression of an attitude the film is significantly weaker than the play; as an exploration of a situation between people possibly stronger; and, in any case, it amounts rather to translation than adaptation. Some interpolations (such as the introduction of Ma Tanner, beautifully played by Edith Evans) succeed entirely; others (Jimmy Porter’s defence of an Indian street trader, for instance) seem gratuitous. Yet the film emerges as strong and unified.
Tony Richardson, directing his first feature, has given it a tough, vital style which represents something new in British cinema. His cameraman, Oswald Morris, has responded to the challenge of the ‘intimate’ subject with harsh, realistically lit exteriors and extensive and imaginative use of close-up.
Of the four main players, Mary Ure, the only survivor from the original cast, is in fact the least distinctive. Richard Burton’s playing is forcefully intelligent, Claire Bloom’s unexpectedly sharp-edged, and Gary Raymond’s easily relaxed. All in all, from “the best young play of its generation” has invigoratingly come the best young (British) film of our generation.