Running off the Anger: British New Wave

by Anna Śliwińska (Author)
©2019 Monographs 250 Pages


Running off the Anger. British New Wave includes several areas of research that suggest interpreting the cinema of the British New Wave in relation to social realism, the construction of the main characters, popular culture and the way New Wave played with film-making. Thanks to an in-depth analysis of key films of this trend, it is possible not only to understand the workings of social realism and examine character creation and their rebellion, but also to explore the intentionality of the utilising New Wave techniques that were known from nouvelle vague. The last chapter of this book is devoted to the most recent references to British New Wave Cinema.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgement
  • Preface
  • Chapter 1 British New Wave: Origins and Evolution of the Movement
  • 1. Angry Young Men
  • 2. British New Wave in Academic Studies and in the Press
  • 3. Working-class Actors
  • 4. Does the British New Wave Have a Beginning and an End?
  • Chapter 2 Social Realism
  • 1. Society, Politics and Realism
  • 2. Documentaries
  • 2.1. Inspirations
  • 2.2. John Grierson
  • 2.3. Humphrey Jennings
  • 2.4. Free Cinema
  • 3. Social Thought
  • 4. Social Realism
  • 4.1. Attempts to Define
  • 4.2. Social Problem Films
  • 5. Feminism
  • 5.1. Female Protagonists of the New Wave
  • 5.2. A Taste of Honey
  • 6. Location
  • 6.1. Outside the Studio
  • 6.2. Town
  • 6.3. Out of Town
  • Chapter 3 Pop Culture
  • 1. Towards Classless Society
  • 2. Consumerism
  • 2.1. Fashion, Culture and Shopping
  • 2.2. Billy Liar10
  • 3. Mass Media
  • 3.1. Television
  • 3.2. The Entertainer
  • 4. Pop Art29
  • 5. Jazz
  • 5.1. All That Jazz
  • 5.2. Look Back in Anger
  • 5.3. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
  • Chapter 4 British New Wave Hero
  • 1. The Hero and The Effect of Reality
  • 2. Protagonist’s Rebellion
  • 2.1. Jimmy Porter (Look Back in Anger)
  • 3. Family Life
  • 3.1. Frank Machin (This Sporting Life)
  • 4. Visions of Success
  • 4.1. Joe Lampton (Room at the Top)
  • 5. In the World of Illusion
  • 5.1. Billy Liar49
  • 5.2. Morgan (Morgan: A Case Suitable for Treatment)
  • 5.3. Nancy, Colin and Tolen (The Knack…and How to Get It)
  • 6. Rebellion or Compromise?
  • 6.1. Arthur Seaton (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)
  • Chapter 5 New Wave Playing with Film-making
  • 1. New Wave, Meaning What?
  • 2. Acting23
  • 2.1. Actors of the British New Wave
  • 2.2. Method Acting
  • 3. Humour
  • 4. Playing with Storyline
  • 5. Playing with Time and Space
  • 6. In Search of Lost Time
  • 6.1. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
  • 6.2. This Sporting Life
  • Chapter 6 Distant Voices of the British New Wave
  • 1. New Wave and What Next?
  • 2. New Wave and Its Resurgence
  • 3. If….12
  • 4. Distant Voices, Still Lives
  • 5. Secrets and Lies
  • 6. My Name Is Joe
  • 7. Billy Elliot
  • 8. Fish Tank
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index


I would like to thank my Parents, whose help and support have been invaluable throughout my work on writing and translating this book. To Karol and Wirginia – thank you for your encouragement and all the inspiring conversations.

My special thanks go to the Head of the Faculty of Polish and Classical Philology – Prof. Tomasz Mizerkiewicz and to the Head of the Institute of Film, Media and Audiovisual Arts at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań – Prof. Wojciech Otto, as well as Prof. Małgorzata Hendrykowska, Prof. Marek Hendrykowski, Prof. Justyna Czaja and my Colleagues.

This book would not have been translated into English without work of a couple of talented and dedicated translators: Aleksandra Oszmiańska-Pagett and Rob Pagett. Thanks to their enthusiasm, valuable comments and commitment, working on this book turned out to be not only a challenge but also a remarkable journey.

The book you are holding in your hands contains handmade illustrations by Paweł Piechnik, whom I want to thank for each line, sketch, inspiration and his dedication, which influenced the final shape of the book.


This book seeks to provide the reader with an insight into how and why the British New Wave became one of the key phenomena in international cinema. There are, in fact, two main inspirations for this book. First of all, it is the intention to tell the story of the British New Wave from a non-British perspective of a person who comes from an entirely different tradition. However, it is not solely the outsider’s view that matters here. The other, even more important reason, is to provide an analysis of the British New Wave that is determined by a slightly fresher vantage point. Consequently, the innovative elements in my publication include introducing pop culture as a context for the discussion, positioning the British New Wave against the backdrop of nouvelle vague and, finally, tracing references to the New Wave cinema in more contemporary film productions.

This publication is not intended as an exhaustive presentation of all the films that were produced in the New Wave era. Instead, its objective is to identify particular areas of research that can prompt interpretations of this cinema through references to social realism, character creation, popular culture or the way New Wave played with film-making. References to these issues can be traced in all the films analysed in this publication, although in some of them they are much more prominent, and it is to these films that I devote most attention. A quick look at the contents of this book will give the reader a clear indication as to which films are, in my opinion, the most interesting and at the same time reflect most clearly the issues I mention above and use in my analysis. Thanks to an in-depth analysis of these film projects, it is possible to understand the workings of social realism, and examine the creation of the protagonist and their rebellion, but also to explore the intentionality of utilising New Wave techniques that were also known from nouvelle vague. So far, all these aspects have only been dealt with superficially, with scholars frequently being content to make general statements. The final chapter of my book invites the reader to engage in a search for contexts that followed the New Wave and were inspired by it. This constitutes a new approach in the field.

In the process of researching this book, some of the New Wave films proved to be of far greater interest, at least due to the creators’ very distinct style. This group comprises such films as Tony Richardson’s (Look Back in Anger, 1959; The Entertainer, 1960; A Taste of Honey, 1961; The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, 1962), Lindsay Anderson’s (This Sporting Life, 1963), Karel Reisz’s (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, 1960; Morgan: A Case Suitable for ←13 | 14→Treatment1, 1966), John Schlesinger’s (A Kind of Loving, 1962; Billy Liar, 1963; Darling, 1965) and Richard Lester’s (A Hard Day’s Night, 1964; The Knack…and How to Get It, 1965). As has already been mentioned, Jack Clayton’s Room at the Top was influenced to a minor degree by the New Wave principles, and will therefore only be analysed in the context of character creation. Other films, such as Bryan Forbes’ The L-Shaped Room (1962), Sidney J. Furie’s The Leather Boys (1964), Michael Winner’s The System (1964), Desmond Davis’ Girl with Green Eyes (1964), Silvio Narizzano’s Georgy Girl (1966) or Four in the Morning by Anthony Simmons (1965) provide a background for the issues analysed here. Even though they all share the feature of raising social problems that was so characteristic of the New Wave, I have not found in them any features that would, either in style or form, go beyond the basic.

My idea for this book is to show this movement as a whole, despite the significant differences in the style of each of the directors. Therefore for the most in-depth analysis I have selected the most striking examples of New Wave cinema, which often differ quite markedly (such as A Taste of Honey and The Knack…and How to Get It), and yet it is possible to point to clearly common tendencies that they all exhibit. At times, the difference stems from technique, elsewhere it comes from the creation of the main character or the essence of their rebellion. Nevertheless, it is always possible to find numerous common features, and this is the basis for the following chapters in this book.

It is important to clarify at this point that I deem British New Wave to refer to films set in Great Britain. I omit film projects that British directors set in America, even if their subject matter or character creation happens to be similar. As a result, I do not include such films as Sanctuary and The Loved One by Tony Richardson, nor do I analyse Tom Jones2. Even though the latter does exhibit ←14 | 15→similarities to the British New Wave, it undermines them with its costume drama style and story-telling convention3.

In a paradoxical manner, I also conclude that films made by the American director Richard Lester fitted in perfectly with the British New Wave, by reflecting the reality of post-war England and at the same time playing with the film form. Nevertheless, I consciously leave out his Help! (1965), even though it seems to be a natural continuation of the idea taken up in A Hard Day’s Night. To my mind, Help!4 is a fully fledged surreal and ironic vision of reality, which only appeared in an embryonic form in the earlier Beatles film alongside social realism.

Moreover, I do not mention films that despite being made at the same time as the New Wave and featuring obvious analogies (e.g. the directors’ style or the social detail), to my mind, are located on the fringes of the New Wave cinema due to genre connotations. Examples of the latter are two of Lester’s films, It’s Trad, Dad5 (1962) and the political grotesque in the sci-fi spirit The Mouse on the Moon (1963), and also Karel Reisz’s Night Must Fall6, which draws on the thriller tradition, or Sidney J. Furie’s musical production The Young Ones (1961).

←15 | 16→

Although I draw extensively from issues raised by the renowned scholars in the field, e.g. social realism (Chapter 2), or character construction (Chapter 4), I try to put the emphasis on the questions that have not yet surfaced in publications on this subject. Therefore I discuss elements of pop culture (Chapter 3) and the intriguing film-making techniques employed by the British New Wave film-makers, which oscillated between socially engaged realist film and experimental cinema (Chapter 5). The British New Wave style is not homogenous, nor does it rely solely on poetic images of reality (though numerous scholars would prefer this to be the case). Instead, it does in fact put emphasis on a conscious play with film-making techniques, which in several cases means drawing inspiration from the European productions of the 1950s and 1960s and particularly from nouvelle vague.

Similarities are evident with the European productions of the time, especially in terms of realist photography, unconventional editing or natural sound. However, certain elements of the reality depicted were characteristic of British projects, and these grew into a new and permanent tendency in English cinema. Starting from the particular way that the film characters speak, the actors’ clothing (from the working-class background that they share with their film protagonists), the acting techniques (combining colloquial language with their drama education) and finishing with natural setting and raising contemporary social issues, all these features serve the purpose of social realism, albeit interpreted in the most original manner. The New Wave has never ceased to inspire, therefore the Chapter 6 of my book is devoted to recent projects that draw from the British New Wave film-making experience, examples being films by Andrea Arnold and Stephen Daldry.

In the title of this book I have used the term “the British New Wave”, which was coined not by the founders of this movement, but by film critics. In this way, I pay tribute to the terminology used by English scholars. Moreover, the term “New Wave” locates the British cinema of the late 1950s and early 1960s in the wider context of this era, and this way highlights its clear connotations with nouvelle vague, which I find especially important.7

←16 | 17→

Rather than being an encyclopaedia abounding in definitions, I intend this to be a publication whose openness gives it lasting relevance and which inspires the reader to embark on their own quest, to motivate them to watch once again films they have seen, and to discover lesser known or even niche cinema. One way of engaging the reader is through the extensive use of footnotes, which not only supply supplementary information, but also serve as a trigger for further searches. Consequently, my book can be both an entertaining read for cinephiles and a course book for film studies students.

Finally, and most importantly, this book is an expression of genuine admiration for the British artists, among whom actors deserve a special tribute. It is an attempt to bring “back to life” those who are no longer with us today, and focus the spotlight back on those who are barely recognisable to today’s younger generation of cinemagoers. Making no attempt to hide my sympathies, I write at length about my favourite actor, Tom Courtenay. Interesting snippets from his biography and his memoirs provide a bridge with the era of the late 1950s and early 1960s, a journey on which I would like to take the reader of this book.

←17 |
 18→←18 | 19→

1 This film was originally intended to be part of a ‘triple’ project, which in addition to Reisz’ production was to include The White Bus by Lindsay Anderson and Red and Blue by Tony Richardson. However, it transpired that due to the amount of material that Reisz managed to produce, he opted for a feature film.

2 As Olga Katafiasz argues, “Although the convention of a historical costume drama could theoretically be used by the Angry Young Men to raise social issues, the makers of Tom Jones clearly had a different aim in mind and it definitely was to amuse […]”. Olga Katafiasz, Nowe kino brytyjskie [New British Cinema] [in:] Historia kina [The History of the Cinema], vol. 3, eds. Tadeusz Lubelski, Iwona Sowińska, Rafał Syska, Universitas, Krakow 2015, p. 295.

3 Rober Shail covers this film in the chapter entitled The Swinging Sixties. Robert Shail, Tony Richardson, op. cit., pp. 52–60.

4 This is what Stephen Glynn points to when he writes that in A Hard Day’s Night the Beatles are still ordinary working-class lads, whereas in Help! everything is framed in ironic terms. Stephen Glynn, “A Hard Day’s Night”: Turner Classic Movies British Film Guide, I.B. Tauris & Co, New York 2005, p. 35. Neil Sinyard confirms this view, suggesting that Help! is dominated by extraordinary imagination, which takes over from the naturalism and journalist realism of A Hard Day’s Night. Moreover, the effect of visual extravagance is strengthened through the use of colour film instead of black and white. Neil Sinyard, The Films of Richard Lester, Croom Helm, London 1985, p. 33.

5 This film has numerous features that would evolve in Lester’s later productions and would correspond with his style of storytelling and the New Wave principles, such as playing with filmmaking or the image of “horrible the upper-middle classes” appalled by the behaviour of the youth. Nevertheless, the film as a whole was intended as a vehicle for numerous jazz hits, both British, (e.g. Chris Barber) and American. It was produced by Amicus Productions (an English production company set up by two Americans, which was best known for their horror films) and distributed by Columbia Pictures.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (November)
British Cinema British Film in the 1950s and 1960s Social Realism Film-making Tony Richardson Angry Young Men
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 246 S., 87 s/w Abb., 5 Tab.

Biographical notes

Anna Śliwińska (Author)

Anna Śliwińska is an associate professor at the Institute of Film, Media and Audiovisual Arts at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań. Her research focuses on selected topics in British cinema. She taught a course titled «Polish Cinematography» at the University of Rochester (USA).


Title: Running off the Anger: British New Wave
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
252 pages