L-Shaped Room, The (1962)

The L-Shaped Room (1962), written and directed by Bryan Forbes.

A young French woman arrives in London, pregnant and staying away from home for a while. All she can find or afford is a bug-infested boarding house filled with eccentrics and social misfits, with actual working prostitutes in the basement.

Everyone she meets presumes she wants to get rid of the baby and they offer her assistance in doing that. She thinks about it until she meets a condescending doctor; that turns her around and she decides to keep it. Later a nice National Health Service physician treats her decently and delivers her baby.

(Abortion was technically illegal at this time, but apparently you could get it done from a real doctor, in his office. He would sign a mental health waver and you would come in on a weekend when no one else was around. Cash up front).

She falls in love with a writer at the boarding house; that doesn't go well. She gets to know the other residents and eventually they become family. She'll miss them when she leaves.

My image of classic British films is that racially they are completely white throughout the kingdom. When we get to the kitchen sink realism era we finally see multi-racial street scenes and previously marginalized characters get to participate.

This is true of sexual orientation as well. One of the residents is an older washed up actress who we understand to be lesbian, fondly remembering better days. American Brock Peters (fresh from To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) where he played doomed Tom Robinson) puts on a West Indies accent and becomes a gay trumpet player. This is a particularly sensitive role: normally kindly and large-hearted, loneliness and jealousy makes him strike out and cause a lot of trouble.

Biggest kudos to Leslie Caron who just masters the lead, strong but not unbreakable.

Actor Tom Bell plays her love interest. I don't know him very well although I understand he has had a good TV career in the UK. The commentary track repeats a story I first heard on the track for Royal Flash (1975): his career was derailed when he got drunk at a reception and heckled Prince Philip, who didn't mind, but Bell was not forgiven by the entertainment powers.

Photographed by Douglas Slocombe. John Barry gets score credit but contributes just a little music for a jazz club. Some Brahms in the background but not a lot of music otherwise.

I think I have to be a completist for films by actor/writer/director Bryan Forbes. So far I have seen:

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time with commentary by some of the regulars.

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