A Taste Of Honey (1961) Directed by Tony Richardson

Shelagh Delaney's A Taste Of Honey was a play I read on the school curriculum when I was entering my teenage years. In the 70's a lot of the themes of the play were still relevant, perhaps one could argue more so today. Teenage pregnancy, mixed race relationships, homosexuality, contraception, the creativity of the poor and the working classes  Because of my association of A Taste Of Honey with school, I always pulled back from the film. Interest in later life was fueled by Morrissey's love of Delaney (she adorned the cover of The Smiths compilation Louder Than Bombs).  Morrissey also drew inspiration from the film for one of my favorite Smiths songs, This Night Has Opened My Eyes.

So after all this association with A Taste Of Honey, how does it feel to return to the film now? The script is simple, yet effective. People might find the dialogue dated today. For me, it recalls a time and place. Richardson evokes the beauty of Salford with some amazing shots, yet still showing working class squalor and post-war decay.  Rita Tushingham (a dead ringer for Alex Turner) and Murray Melvin are excellent. Dora Bryan (famous as a variety performer in my youth), steals the film as the uncaring 'tart with a heart' mother.

So, this was/is a breakthrough picture. I enjoyed A Taste Of Honey so much this time. Geoffrey (Melvin), the gay textile student who befriends Jo (Tushingham), is one of my favorite screen turns. Morrissey was right all along. Sweet as.

It is important to wonder why a movie or a book or a poem or a song has the title that it carries. They matter. I am therefore embarrassed to admit that even after two days of thinking, I have no idea why this film was named A Taste of Honey. I love the title but it seems to be a description of everything that the film is not.

There is no sweetness at all. There is no softness and there is not really much hope in everything turning out well either. This is the most elegant and tragically beautiful way of telling the audience that life is in fact unfair and unromantic. Life is random and ugly with some haphazard beauty and pleasure here and there. I'm not sure if I want to believe this myself, but that is the poetry of A Taste of Honey.

There used to be a masterful way of seeing and capturing the mundane, poor surroundings of cities and their people in the English kitchen sink drama. The industrial docks, the yet not built lots, shabby estates and the rain, all look more beautiful and meaningful than anything captured today with brilliant focus lenses, lights and precision. I'm not sure if we have just lost the eye to see the present as aesthetically meaningful or if the good photographers have simply died.

I have returned to drinking my evening cup of tea with honey. I figured in case life really is mostly tragic, I have to add the honey myself.


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