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Interesting but dated
on 22 May 2010
Look Back in Anger created a sensation when it first saw the light of day in 1956 because it wasn't the sort of thing that West End theatre audiences had become used to. Instead of the stylish but rather empty upper middle class set pieces of Noel Coward and Terence Rattigan, here was a fairly brutal play full of dinginess and gritty realism - suddenly the kitchen sink had arrived on the scene, and all the pretentious conventions of 1950s Britain were sensationally challenged and mocked, sometimes with mordant wit. Wonderful stuff in its day, but alas its day has long since passed and neither the play nor this film version of it have worn at all well. Nowadays, fifty years after the film was made, we are left wondering what on earth the spoiled and hugely indulged Jimmy Porter was so angry about.
Richard Burton seems to me to have been seriously miscast. He acts as though he was in Shakespeare rather than in a kitchen sink drama, and relies on lots of shouting as well as on a limited range of bleary facial expressions. His interpretation brings out the highly unpleasant aspects of Jimmy Porter's character - the over-indulged egoism in particular - without doing anything like enough justice to the character's vulnerability. The other actors turn in good performances, but their mannerisms and elegant speech cadences rather give the game away - this, essentially, was a play not about working class lives, but about well-heeled middle class youngsters trying to live among the working class.
The cinematography is extremely impressive, with very fine photography that shows how effective monochrome can be in the hands of a really skilled cameraman. But unfortunately, the painstaking excellence of the photography doesn't really compensate for the film's weaknesses. An interesting museum piece, certainly, but one that rather seems to have lost its relevance.