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Room At The Top (1959)

Room at the Top was adapted from John Braine’s first novel, about an ambitious young man in a local government office in a large and bleak northern town who makes a set for a wealthy industrialist’s daughter, and – when thwarted – turns to an older married woman.

Eventually, he is forced into marriage with the girl, the older woman meeting her death after a drinking orgy.

The character of Joe Lampton is ambivalent, bitter, his social animus perhaps deriving from a slum childhood and a war spent mostly in a prison camp, but driven forward by a kind of confident, day-dreaming quality, a refusal to admit the impossible.

His eventual translation from the cobblestones of the lower end of the town to the Tudor gables at the top is meant to show his sublimation of life’s values to ambition.

He has destroyed one life and knowingly goes into a loveless marriage accompanied by the material comforts for which he has always hankered. It is, in his terms, not a bad jail sentence.

In retrospect, Braine’s book is hardly as startling as it may have seemed at the time. The stance is a traditional, stolid one of disapproval.

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In the film, the tight-lipped and rather frigid performance of Laurence Harvey does not explain the character’s motivation. Donald Wolfit, as the industrialist, delivers an impressively theatrical portrait of a nineteenth-century mill-owner, although the performance hardly fits this particular film.

Simone Signoret, as the older woman, is not too happily cast, either, volatile Gallic temperament not mixing well with Yorkshire reticence.

But the critics’ admiration was mainly on account of the love scenes between Harvey and Heather Sears; at last someone in a British film actually admitted that the sex act was enjoyable and for the first time such dialogue was passed by the British Board of Film Censors.

What seemed startling in 1959 had later become banal, but Room at the Top was at least a turning point in this sense.

Joe Lampton
Laurence Harvey
Alice Aisgill

Simone Signoret
Susan Brown

Heather Sears
Charles Soames

Donald Houston
Mr Brown

Donald Wolfit
Elspeth

Hermione Baddeley
George Aisgill

Allan Cuthbertson
Mr Hoylake

Raymond Huntley
Jack Wales
John Westbrook
Mrs Brown
Ambrosine Phillpotts
Teddy Merrick
Richard Pasco
Eva Kent
Delena Kidd
Cyril Kent
Ian Hendry
Mavis
April Olrich
June Samson
Mary Peach
Bernard
Anthony Newlands
Miss Gilchrist
Avril Elgar
Miss Breith
Thelma Ruby
Bert
Derren Nesbitt
Meg
Prunella Scales
Mary
Katharine Page
Janet
Anne Leon
Joan
Wendy Craig
Gertrude
Miriam Karlin
Reggie
Kenneth Waller
Raymond
Andrew Irvine
Darnley
Stephen Jack
Miss Tanfield
May Hallatt
Ethel’s mother
Sheila Raynor
Ethel
Gilda Emmanueli
Mrs Thomson
Jane Eccles
Harry
Dennis Linford
Grant
Michael Atkinson
Uncle Nat
Wilfred Lawson

Director
Jack Clayton

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