cover art for Melanie Williams on A Taste of Honey

Writers on Film

Melanie Williams on A Taste of Honey

Season 1, Ep. 104

Melanie Williams is Professor in Film and Television Studies at the University of East Anglia, UK. A specialist in British cinema, her publications in this area include British Women’s Cinema (2009), Ealing Revisited (BFI, 2012), David Lean (2014), Female Stars of British Cinema: The Women in Question (2017) and Transformation and Tradition in 1960s British Cinema (2019).

A Taste of Honey (1961) is a landmark in British cinema history. In this book, Melanie Williams explores the many, extraordinary ways in which it was trailblazing. It is the only film of the British New Wave canon to have been written by a woman – Shelagh Delaney, adapting her own groundbreaking stage play. At the behest of director Tony Richardson and his company, Woodfall, it was one of the first films to be made entirely on location, and was shot in an innovative, rough, poetic style by cinematographer Walter Lassally. It was also the launchpad for a new type of young female star in Rita Tushingham.

Tushingham plays the young heroine, Jo, who finds she is pregnant after her love affair with Jimmy (Paul Danquah), a Black sailor. When Jimmy's ship sails away, Jo is comforted and supported by her gay friend Geoff (Murray Melvin), while her unreliable mother, Helen (Dora Bryan), has her own life to lead. Candid in its treatment of matters of gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality and motherhood, and highly distinctive in its evocation of place and landscape, A Taste of Honey marked the advent of new possibilities for the telling of working-class stories in British cinema. As such, its rich but complex legacy endures to this day.

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