The kitchen sink realistic play comes to the living room screen. “A Taste of Honey”, the 1961 British classic from Tony Richardson, finally makes it’s Blu-ray debut. Thanks to the folks at Criterion, “A Taste of Honey” has been digitally restored and remastered. Completely unapologetic in its’ depiction of life for the poor living in industrial Manchester, “A Taste of Honey” cuts to the bone in a way so few films capture. Where so many films and dramas aim to capture a story with a clear and resolute ending, A Taste of Honey does something different. There is no happy ending, only happy moments, tucked away among the clutter of reality.
The comedy-drama’s best work is in it’s casting. Rita Tushingham as Jo is as perfect as you could humanly get, landing each annoying teenage quip with irreverent style. Dora Bryan masterfully captures the capricious and aloof attitude of the negligent alcoholic mother Helen. Murray Melvin compliments Rita well as the gay best friend Geoff. Robert Stephens delivers well on the performance of the lecherous boyfriend Peter. Together they paint a complex and interesting mosaic of personality and inter-dependence, each actor playing off one another succinctly. The film does well to capitalize on Rita’s performance, showing all aspects of the emotional existential crisis of simply existing as a teenager.
The film focuses on the hardships of lower class Manchester through the lens of a young school girl, Jo. Jo lives with her neglectful and over-dramatic mother Helen. The film opens with an ear-piercingly loud and obnoxious children’s choir piece which I was astonished wasn’t mixed down for the Criterion release. Thankfully once it’s over the rest of the film’s audio is well mixed and shot. Once the film hits its’ beat things march along at a fair pace and the film never feels like it’s dragging its’ feet.
Overall I would have to say the film only felt above average. The film is digestible enough, but I never felt a deep connection to anyone character. So much of the plot doesn’t feel particularly interesting. “A Taste of Honey” tries desperately to dance between melodrama, comedy, romance, and the mundane and there are moments sprinkled throughout that land on target. Unfortunately, the intense focus on true to life realism left me feeling bored throughout much of the film. The film does it’s service of transporting the viewer to another place, but ultimately leads to nowhere. Of course, this is all by design. Don’t expect a movie called “A Taste of Honey” to give you the whole jar, but even a taste should linger a little longer on the palette.
Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 2k Blu-ray baby!
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Clarity/Detail: Clear and crisp.
Depth: Some nice long shots and the overall cinematography give a nice sense of place and space.
Black Levels: Blacks are rich and deep.
Color Reproduction: Black and White
Flesh Tones: Flesh is accurately produced.
Noise/Artifacts: Nothing noticeable.
Audio Format: Monaural
Dynamics: Monaural. Not much to expect here.
Low Frequency Extension: Monaural. Don’t expect the bass to drop. Please. Think of the children.
Surround Sound Presentation: N/A
Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is clean and well understood, despite the incredible phenomenon that is the working class English accent.
As always, Criterion delivers the goods when it comes to the extras.
Rita Tushingham and Murray Melvin – Interview with Rita and Murray whom play Jo and Geoff respectively. Made specifically for Criterion
1962 Cannes Film Festival – Audio interview with writer/director Tony Richardson.
Shelagh Delaney – Television excerpt featuring an interview with the original play write of “A Taste of Honey”
Walter Lassally – interview with the late cinematographer for “A Taste of Honey” circa 1998.
Remaking British Theater:Joan Littlewood and “A Taste of Honey” – Kate Dorney talks about the films origins as a play and it’s impact of British theater of the time.
Momma Don’t Allow – A short film by Richardson and shot by Lassally.
A worthy addition to the growing Criterion Collect, “A Taste of Honey” delivers on multiple fronts. Although the film as whole left me only semi-interested, there a few brilliant moments that left a lasting impression. Certainly a worthy item for anyone interested in British cinema, realism, or the plight of the bourgeois. Criterion does a fantastic job recapturing the entirety of the film in high definition. It is amazing to watch a film from the 60’s and realize you can count the eyelashes on the actresses eyes. The only faults of the film are perhaps its’ over-reaching dedication to realism and that truly bizarre and annoying opening number. My griping aside, “A Taste of Honey” goes to show that the sweetest moments in life are so very temporary.