Mousey Rita Tushingham made her screen debut in this ground-breaking movie (a romance of sorts, and a comedy also), playing Jo – the unwanted 17-year-old daughter of her drink-sodden, libertine mother, Helen (Dora Bryan).
This hilariously vulgar Salford lass is being courted by flash and pimpish Peter (Robert Stephens) and is saved from her living hell by two social exiles – Jimmy (Paul Danquah), a black sailor who makes her pregnant, and Geoffrey (Murray Melvin), a homosexual co-worker who makes her happy – until the poverty trap snaps shut around her.
As brief as Jo and Jimmy’s interracial relationship may have been, its onscreen depiction was progressive for the time, as was the representation of Jo’s close friendship with Geoffrey.
Set in dank bed sits amid the grimy smokestacks and polluted canals of Salford and the tacky prom at Blackpool, this movie (based on Shelagh Delaney’s play) is a priceless though stark reminder of England and English attitudes in the early 60s.
When Salford-born Delaney put pen to paper to write her first play, which she completed in just ten days, little could she have imagined both the impact it would have on theatre audiences and the lasting influence the big screen adaptation would have on British cinema as a significant contributor to the British New Wave.
Director Tony Richardson selected Rita Tushingham for the lead role of Jo after auditioning two thousand young women.
A Taste of Honey marked Tushingham’s screen debut, and while her performance went on to win the best actress award at Cannes in 1962, she was still so unknown at the festival that she had difficulty getting into the film’s after-party.