A TASTE OF HONEY [1961 / 2016] [The Criterion Collection] [Blu-ray] [USA Release]
The Prize Winning Comedy-Drama of a Young Girl’s Passionate Love For Life!
The revolutionary British New Wave films of the early 1960’s were celebrated for their uncompromising depictions of working-class lives and relations between the sexes. Directed by Tony Richardson, a leading light of that movement, and based on one of the most controversial plays of its time. ‘A TASTE OF HONEY’ features Rita Tushingham in her star-making debut role as a disaffected teenager Jo (Josephine) finding her way amid the economic desperation of industrial Manchester, and despite her absent, self-absorbed mother. With its unapologetic identification with social outcasts and its sensitive, modern approach to matters of sexuality and race, Tony Richardson’s classic is a still startling benchmark work of realism.
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FILM FACT No.1: Awards and Nominations: 1962 BAFTA Film Awards: Win: Best British Actress for Dora Bryan. Win: Best British Film for Tony Richardson. Win: Best British Screenplay for Shelagh Delaney and Tony Richardson. Win: Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles for Rita Tushingham. Nominated: Best Film from any Source for Tony Richardson. Nominated: Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles for Murray Melvin. 1962 Cannes Film Festival: Win: Best Actor for Murray Melvin. Win: Best Actress for Rita Tushingham. Nominated: Palme d'Or for Tony Richardson. 1962 Writers' Guild of Great Britain Awards: Win: Best British Dramatic Screenplay for Shelagh Delaney and Tony Richardson. 1963 Golden Globes® Awards: Win: Most Promising Newcomer for Female for Rita Tushingham. 1963 Directors Guild of America: Nominated: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures for Tony Richardson. The ‘A TASTE OF HONEY’ film was the inspiration behind the song “Your Mother Should Know,” which is on the 1967 Compact Disc Album “Magical Mystery Tour” by The Beatles.
FILM FACT No.2: A. H. Weiler of The New York Times gave a positive review, stating “In being transported out of the theatre, this "Honey" has been enriched.” Rita Tushingham said in 2020 “A lot of the reaction was, People like that don’t exist – by which they meant homosexuals, single mothers and people in mixed-race relationships. But they did.” The film was banned in several countries.
Cast: Dora Bryan, Robert Stephens, Rita Tushingham, Murray Melvin, Paul Danquah, Michael Bilton, Eunice Black, David Boliver, Margo Cunningham, A. Goodman, John Harrison, Veronica Howard, Moira Kaye, Graham Roberts, Valerie Scarden, Herbert Smith, Rosalie Williams, Jack Yarker, Hazel Blears (uncredited), Linda Lewis (uncredited) and Janet Rugg (uncredited)
Director: Tony Richardson
Producer: Tony Richardson
Screenplay: Shelagh Delaney (screenplay/play) and Tony Richardson (screenplay)
Composer: John Addison
Wardrobe Department: Barbara Gillett and Sophie Devine
Cinematography: Walter Lassally (Director of Photography)
Image Resolution: 1080p (Black and White)
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English: 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio
English: 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono Audio
Running Time: 100 minutes
Region: Region A/1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: British Lion Films / JANUS FILMS / The Criterion Collection
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: ‘A TASTE OF HONEY’  is a film that was originally a stage play, and through director Tony Richardson and cinematographer Walter Lassally's impressionistic use of industrial landscapes. The canals and backstreets of Salford take on a dreamy air as Jo (Josephine) [Rita Tushingham] tries to come to an accommodation with herself and her life. Some of the imagery, such as the black sailor called Jimmy [Paul Danquah] and his boat going down the ship canal or the scenes between a starry sky and a dance hall ceiling, is incredibly beautiful, creating a coming-of-age portrait which compares with the best such works in a world cinema scenario.
‘A TASTE OF HONEY’ is a 1961 British film adaptation of the play of the same name by Shelagh Delaney and adapted the screenplay herself, and aided by director Tony Richardson, who had previously directed the first production of the play, which was first produced by Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop and was premiered at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, a small fringe theatre in London, on 27 May 1958. The production then transferred to the larger Wyndham's Theatre in the West End on the 10th February, 1959. Then of course the play was adapted into an award-winning film of the same title in 1961. It is an example of a gritty genre of a British film that has come to be called kitchen sink realism and was the inspiration behind the song “Your Mother Should Know,” which is on the 1967 album “Magical Mystery Tour” by The Beatles.
Like France's “New Wave,” England was even fierier with the Angry Young Men emerged in the 1950’s, fuelled by oedipal rage and social alienation. Filling stage, screen, page and canvas with volley after volley aimed at what they deemed the falsity and life-denying formulaic artifice of the previous generation, they insured that the working class, or just as often the unemployed class, would shed its invisibility forever and be heard loud and gratingly clear. From time to time national cinemas seem to experience bursts of creativity that result in concentrated periods of inspired output. To my mind the British film industry had two such "golden ages."
The most productive of these filmmakers during this time was Tony Richardson. Although like the rest of his contemporaries he eventually moved on to more mainstream projects, where he directed no less than five notable British New Wave films between 1959 and 1963, when he won an Oscar for directing Tom Jones. The film faithfully follows the narrative of the play. But the camera effectively gets into the streets and captures the grey drabness of the locals as well as the boisterous vulgarity of Blackpool, saloons and dance-halls. Yarn primarily concerns five people and their dreams, hopes and fears. They are Jo (Josephine); her flighty, sluttish neglectful mother; the fancy man her mother marries; a young Negro ship’s cook with whom Jo (Josephine) has a brief affair which leaves her pregnant; and a sensitive young homosexual who gives her the tenderness and affection lacking in her relationship with her mother.
‘A TASTE OF HONEY’ was the first play by the then 18-year-old Shelagh Delaney, with whom Tony Richardson also wrote the screenplay. It stands apart from the others in another respect and it's more anguished than angry as it recounts the storm-tossed emotions of its central character, Jo (Josephine), a teenaged schoolgirl who lives in Salford and next stop down from Manchester on the Manchester Ship Canal with her alcoholic survivor of a mother, Helen [Dora Bryan] who is on the wrong side of 40, and regularly flitting from shabby flat to shabby flat every time she can't pay the rent, Helen is no more than a step or two from desperation. Not exactly a prostitute, but she relies on the kindness of strangers. Helen is in her element leading a sing-along around a piano in a pub, living off money she gets from a succession of "boyfriends." When a man a few years younger than she, Peter Smith [Robert Stephens] starts talking marriage, she feels he's too snug a harbour to pass up, so she abandons Jo (Josephine) and goes off with Peter Smith.
Feeling unloved and resentful at the way her mother's chaotic lifestyle keeps them forever on the run, with never a chance for the stability that might enable her to follow her dream of attending art school, Jo (Josephine) is becomingly shyly advancing towards a young sailor on shore leave, Jimmy [Paul Danquah]. Jo (Josephine) has a hungry heart, yearning for nurturing she never gets, soaks up his soft-spoken attentions. Tony Richardson's documentary-textured camerawork turns lyrical when depicting the freshness and innocence of their puppy love against the grimy streets and smokestacks of Salford, where Shelagh Delaney was born and raised. The young lovers are contrasted with the crude loudness and jadedness of Helen and Peter Smith and their circle as the film does more than the usual opening up of a stage play. Extending the liberating camerawork and working class focus of the seminal British Documentary movement of the 1930’s and 1940’s, its potent black and white visuals use the streets, docks, and mean, worn-out buildings and including the cramped brick houses known as back-to-backs, sharing a common back alley, in ways that do more than add authenticity. They turn Salford itself into a character in the drama. It's the kind of environment challenging anyone living there to push back against it, lest it grind you down. Yet from it arise flashes of fugitive poetry, as when Jo (Josephine) bids goodbye to her sailor, who grows ever smaller as the Barton Road Swing Bridge pivots him away from her to the freighter on which he's about to ship out.
Jo (Josephine) woes multiply when her mother, clueless about Jo's liaison, returns to their cramped quarters and they resume the intense catfight that has long been their ongoing medium of exchange. Happy to hear that Helen is going off with her new lover, although angry at being ejected from a holiday excursion to the grotesque excesses of forced fun at Blackpool with Helen, Pete and another couple, Jo takes the bus home, moves out, gets a job in a shoe store, rents a dilapidated loft, and learns she's pregnant. Her new roommate too impoverished to help with the rent, although he helps with everything else, is actor Murray Melvin's gay would-be textile designer, Geoffrey Ingham, where he cooks, he cleans, he decorates, he keeps Jo (Josephine)'s spirits up, although not when he takes it upon himself to visit a local gynaecological clinic and returns home with a baby doll for Jo (Josephine) to practice on, only to have her dash it to the floor, saying it's the wrong colour. Then Jo (Josephine)'s mother returns, upping the volcanic domestic situation even more.
Tony Richardson smacks us at regular intervals with close-ups of Rita Tushingham glaring into the camera, sometimes with pain, mostly with defiance, down but never out. Like her mother, Dora Bryan, from nearby Lancashire, began her career in stage comedy, went on to a long career in film and TV, and gets the star billing in ‘A TASTE OF HONEY.’ Tony Richardson, himself a son of Yorkshire, knew what he was doing. The men come and go. The women, mother and daughter, are the strong ones here, and Dora Bryan effortlessly holds up her end of the drama, making us feel the role is in her blood. Dora Bryan’s lusty, slatternly yet upbeat Helen is in some ways a monster, but she's a monster with a big, untenable spirit and an iron heart, even if mother love is sometimes beyond her ability to generate. Helen may not be able to teach Jo (Josephine) anything about child care, but she's a cornucopia of survival skills. And Murray Melvin's delicate, gangly Geoffrey Ingham is all Shelagh Delaney needs to make good on her promise that homosexuality would be treated with accuracy and sensitivity.
‘A TASTE OF HONEY’ is a really first-rate film in all respects and a very intelligent one to boot. It's difficult to believe that a movie with such insight into its characters' emotions and moods, and so aware of the power their environment has over them, is the product of the imagination of an eighteen-year old writer. It's a melancholic film that treats its melancholy in neither an overly intellectual nor an overly sentimental way and is all the more moving for its temperate view of the essential sadness of life. What keeps ‘A TASTE OF HONEY’ alive isn't its anger, but its ferociously loving celebration of working-class toughness.
A TASTE OF HONEY MUSIC TRACK LIST
THE BIG SHIP SAILS (uncredited) [Traditional English children's song sung during the opening and closing credits]
BECAUSE HE LOVES ME (uncredited) [Written by Harry Castling / Sung in the pub by Dora Bryan]
WHY NOT? (uncredited) [Music by Phil Williams / Lyrics by Sam Bell] [Played during the Blackpool sequence]
BABY FACE ROCK (uncredited) [Music by John Addison] [Played during the Blackpool sequence]
LET’S SLIP AWAY (uncredited) [Music by John Dankworth] [Lyrics by David Dearlove] [Performed by Cleo Laine] [Played during the Blackpool sequence]
ON A MOUNTAIN STANDS A LADY (uncredited) [Sung by the young children at the canal as “On a Hill There Is a Lady” and is a Traditional English children's song]
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Blu-ray Image Quality – The Criterion Collection in association with British Lion Films has done a brilliant professional job in giving us a beautiful black-and-white 1080p encoded image, and of course an equally impressive 1.66:1 aspect ratio, so showing the film in the best presentation of this classic British film, especially with the revolutionary British New Wave films of the early 1960’s. Depth of field, image sharpness, and grain has all been excellently preserved throughout, with the black-and-white image boasting appropriate and balanced contrast levels. Debris and dirt have been removed and scratches have been minimized. Overall, this is top-notch restoration work. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided for the main feature. The following text appears inside the leaflet provided with this Blu-ray release: This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director Film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film's DRS, while Digital Vision's Phoenix was used for jitter, flicker, small dirt, grain, and noise management. The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35mm original sound negative. This element was transferred at the British Film Institute National Archive in Berkhamsted, England, using Sondor's Resonances optical soundtrack scanner system. Digital restoration was performed by the Criterion Collection using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX4.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The Criterion Collection in association with British Lion Films has done a brilliant professional job in giving us a very nice audio experience of 2.0 LPCM Digital Audio. Accordingly, it's all the more impressive that the film sounds immaculate, with a remastering of the 35mm original sound negative yielding something close to audio-visual perfection. The Criterion Collection has given the monaural track an appropriate mix, with the dialogue and score remaining at roughly the same audio levels throughout. There are no instances of distortion or muffled audio.
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Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Newly restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray.
Special Feature: Momma Don’t Allow  [480i] [1.37:1] [21:11] With this featurette, we get to view a 1956 documentary, directed by Tony Richardson and his first theatrical film and shot by ‘A TASTE OF HONEY’ cinematographer Walter Lassally and was co-directed by Karel Reisz and made part of the Free Cinema movement. This short British documentary film is about a North London Jazz Club at the Art and Viv Sanders’ Wood Green Jazz Club in “The Fishmonger’s Arms” with The Chris Barber's Jazz Band where we see them unpacks their instruments and rehearses for the evening concert at the Wood Green Jazz Club. Meanwhile, young working-class people, including a waitress, a butcher boy, and a dentist's assistant and leave their work and head for the club. There, a crowd of youngsters are queuing to get in as the band starts playing. Teddy boys order their first pint, joke with their friends and flirt with girls while the first couples move towards the dance floor. The friendly atmosphere is only disrupted by the arrival of a group of middle-class young people out on a “slumming night.” They show off their expensive cars, suits and evening dresses and look at the working-class youngsters with amusement and contempt. When it comes to dancing, they seem less self-assured, but everybody treats them with indifference. They leave the club as the evening goes on. On stage the band alternates boisterous jazzy tunes and slower ballads sung by a female singer. Between two songs some couples progressively get closer, hug each other and kiss. Others have a row and then make up. A girl falls asleep on her boyfriend's shoulder. On the dance floor the most active youngsters accelerate their pace and only stop jiving when the band decides to pack up. The revellers go home, exhausted but happy. It was produced by the British Film Institute Experimental Film Fund. It was first shown as part of the first Free Cinema programme at the National Film Theatre in February 1956. Free Cinema consisted of documentaries that were produced on small budgets outside the mainstream British film industry and depicted everyday lives of working-class people. Cast: Chris Barber [trombone], Ron Bowden [drums], Jim Bray [bass], Lonnie Donegan [banjo and vocals], Pat Halcox [trumpet], Ottilie Patterson [vocals] and Monty Sunshine [clarinet].
Special Feature: Tony Richardson [Audio only]  [1080p] [1.78:1 / 1.37:1] [15:02] With this featurette, we get to hear an interview with screenwriter and director Tony Richardson, where we get presented with film clips and behind-the-scene images. The interview was conducted by critic Gideon Bachman at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival, where director Tony Richardson discusses some of the trends that defined the British New Wave films, the importance of freedom in his work with film and theatre work, and the stage play by Shelagh Delaney that inspired the film ‘A TASTE OF HONEY’ and some of the similarities and differences between the two and Tony Richardson also directed a stage production of the play, and the poetic quality of the film, its style and atmosphere and some of its key theatrical qualities, the pictorial qualities of the northern towns in England.
Special Feature: The Actors: Here you get to view two new featurettes that consist of interviews with actors Rita Tushingham as Jo (Josephine) and Murray Melvin as Geoffrey Ingham that performed in the film ‘A TASTE OF HONEY’ that brought them international acclaim, including awards for Rita Tushingham for best actress and Murray Melvin for best actor at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival. In these two separate interviews that were recorded exclusively for The Criterion Collection in London in May 2016 and Rita Tushingham and Murray Melvin who originated his role in the play “A Taste of Honey,” and both discuss the film’s production and here are the following two fascinating interesting interviews and they are as follows:
Rita Tushingham on ‘A TASTE OF HONEY’  [1080p] [1.66:1 / 1.78:1] [18:17] With this featurette, we have this first special interview Rita Tushingham recalls how ‘A TASTE OF HONEY’ effectively launched her acting career, and discusses the shooting of the film in Manchester, her interactions with Tony Richardson and Dora Bryan, the director's working methods, cinematographer Walter Lassally's on-location shooting and the bulk of the footage was shot with a hand-held camera, we also hear how important the film was for women's roles in cinema, especially Jo (Josephine) and Geoffrey Ingham and their relationship. Throughout the interview we get to view lots of clips from the film ‘A TASTE OF HONEY.’
Breaking Barriers: Murray Melvin on ‘A TASTE OF HONEY’  [1080p] [1.78:1] [18:38] With this featurette, we have this second special interview with Murray Melvin who discusses his acting career, his first encounter with Shelagh Delaney, why and how ‘A TASTE OF HONEY’ broke all sorts of different barriers and taboos, and especially with some very interesting comments about homosexuality in British cinema and theatre during the 1950s. Murray Melvin discusses work with Rita Tushingham, Tony Richardson's working methods and how he had to adapt to them, and also talks about the success of the film. Throughout the interview we get to view more of clips from the film ‘A TASTE OF HONEY.’
Special Feature: Walter Lassally [Audio only]  [1080i / 480i] [1.78:1 / 1.37:1] [19:51] With this featurette, we get to view a 1998 video essay that features cinematographer Walker Lassally discussing his work with director Tony Richardson and the unusual production methods for the film ‘A TASTE OF HONEY.’ Walker Lassally also discusses the decision to shoot the film on different film stocks with specific comments about the grain structure of different segments, the use of reflected light, the use of the Arriflex camera whose mobility made it possible to shoot on location and have the intended fluid appearance, the treatment of light throughout the film.
Special Feature: Remaking British Theatre  [1080p] [1.78:1] [21:30] With this featurette, we are informed that Shelagh Delaney’s play “A Tastes of Honey” was first produced by Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in London in 1958. In this interview theatre scholar Kate Dorney discusses the ground-breaking production and its enduring influence. Kate Dorney also explains why ‘A TASTE OF HONEY’ is important as a play and film, and discusses the state of British theatre during the 1950’s, the type of themes that routinely appeared in plays and the ones that were not allowed by the censors, the use of language in the play and the film with rhythm, articulation, and delivery, and the censors’ attitude towards homosexuality and specifically towards Geoffrey Ingham's gay character, etc. The interview was conducted exclusively for The Criterion Collection in London in May 2016. Contributors include: Dora Bryan [Actress], Kate Dorney, Murray Melvin [Actor] and Rita Tushingham [Actress].
Special Feature: Close-Up  [480i] [1.37:1] [15:17] With this featurette, we get to view this interview excerpt from playwright Shelagh Delaney and discusses her childhood years in Salford, England, and writing her hit play “A Taste of Honey” at the age of eighteen years of age. The interview first aired in 1960 for the CBD Radio-Canada television series “Close-Up.”
PLUS: Here you have a very nice illustrated leaflet featuring an essay by film scholar Colin MacCabe's entitled NORTHERN ACCENTS. The author is a Distinguished Professor of English and Film at the University of Pittsburgh. Colin MacCabe's most recent Biography/Film Documentary production entitled “The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger,” which examines different aspects of John Berger's life in his remote village in the Alps. It has four seasonal chapters; the film combines ideas and motifs from his work with the texture and history of his mountain home. You also get included SPECIAL THANKS, ACKNOWLEGMENTS, PRODUCTION CREDITS, CAST, CREDITS and TECHNICAL CREDITS.
BONUS: We get a new stunning designed Blu-ray cover by Jon Gray. Jon Gray, who is also known as Gray 318, who is a top typographic book designer, who is economical with his designs and has a very wry and dry sense of humour.
Finally, this is definitely a worthy addition to the growing collection of The Criterion Collection and especially their Blu-ray release of ‘A TASTE OF HONEY’ and is a superb rendition of this vintage British New Wave gem of a film, that was bleak, raw, and ahead of its time, and is much improved over earlier inferior DVD releases, so making it look totally wonderful, and especially showing off this wonderful "kitchen sink" drama in its fully glory. The 1080p HD presentation is totally exquisite and genuinely advances the film's expression and this new restored 4K scan recovers the film’s Black-and-White images and shows off the dusty grey Manchester dirt in its full glory. Rita Tushingham's debut is totally inspiring, as is the other brilliant British actors. Films like this and of course other classic films like ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,’ ‘Georgy Girl’ and ‘Billy Liar,’ make us think of England in these years as existing in gritty Black-and-White images. The new scan also presents the soundtrack very clearly and a beautiful rendition audio experience. John Addison’s film music score makes generous use of the real gritty street songs of the 1960s and the tunes heard on the British funfair piers. I cannot endorse this brilliant film enough and is a must see. The Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a strong package and with the new 4K restoration preserves the power of the film with its brilliant filmic presentation that begs to be seen. This is definitely a totally powerful appealing and authentic presentation of a really beautifully human film and especially loaded with a plethora of brilliant fascinating extras. Don't hesitate, as it is a must buy. Very Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Aficionado
Le Cinema Paradiso