Taste of Honey, A (1961)

A Taste of Honey (1961), produced and directed by Tony Richardson.

Young Jo and her irresponsible fun-loving mother flit around run-down industrial Manchester, moving whenever the rent comes due. Mom gets a younger boyfriend just about the time Jo finds her own first love with a black sailor. He's nice but won't be around for long. They have one night together before he ships out.

When Mom remarries Jo has to find her own place. She takes in a young gay man who becomes her best friend. He loves her and when learning she is pregnant, offers to marry her for the sake of the baby. Then Mom reenters the story.

For a long time the story has an unexpectedly light tone, with a comical score by John Addison and characters that are full of snappy patter and wisecracks, helping us to watch serious things without making them too heavy. This belongs to the "It's Grim Up North" school of British filmmaking, but old industrial towns are strangely photogenic. Adapted from a play, it tends to be dialogue-heavy.

British films were more open about certain subjects years before American movies: unwed mother, mixed-race couple, an openly gay character. They also took these things more as a matter of course rather than making a big deal out of them as Hollywood must.

I remember Murray Melvin's exotic looks from Kubrick (Barry Lyndon (1975)) and Ken Russell (The Devils (1971), The Boy Friend (1971)) but this is the first time I've seem him as a featured character. He was the original Geoff in the first stage production; before that he had been making the tea backstage. In an extra he calls himself "the face of gay pride, 1958".

Available on Blu-ray from Criterion.