A Taste of Honey Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
At school, Jo is lousy at playing ball during recess. In the bathroom afterwards, she says she does it on purpose. A classmate asks if she’ll be going to the dance that night. She won’t, of course, because she has nothing to wear. There is also the matter that she may have to move out of her flat yet again.
Jo (Rita Tushingham, in her debut) lives with her mother, Helen (Dora Bryan, THE NIGHT WE GOT THE BIRD), who berates her on what seems to be an hourly basis. Helen’s behavior and reputation as a bit of a tramp, parading men in and out of her room, forces her and her daughter out for good. In their new residence—another slummy box with a leaky roof—Helen continues pushing Jo around, moaning about death and meeting strangers.
Soon after, Helen weds a man named Peter Smith (Robert Stephens, A CIRCLE OF DECEPTION). In her days, Jo is bored with her surroundings. One afternoon, she meets a sailor named Jimmy (Paul Danquah, also in his debut; he would only appear in three more films), who she develops a relationship with, resulting in an unintended pregnancy. There, too, is a homosexual named Geoffrey (Murray Melvin, reprising his role from the original London production of the play), who rooms with Jo and provides necessary support up until a certain point.
There is not much of a plot in A TASTE OF HONEY, which is based on Shelagh Delaney’s 1958 play, an essential kitchen sink drama. Things happen and develop, of course, but the film is more so a display of characters dealing with issues of the working class, domestic tribulations and loneliness. This is a film made of scenarios that have only a dash of hope, while the viewer awaits the inevitable turning point that will lead to the sort of emptiness that cannot be escaped.
Directed by Tony Richardson, who headed more than 350 performances of the play in New York, and adapted by both Richardson and Delaney, A TASTE OF HONEY stands as perhaps the ideal work of its kind. There are a number of others of its kind and there were a few before it (Richardson himself had a hand in some, including THE ENTERTAINER with Laurence Olivier), but A TASTE OF HONEY is exemplary in its depictions and realism. Additionally, while relatively simple on the surface, the film packs a level of complexity that adds further dimension to the characters and situations. (One, most troubling, is the parallel between Jo and her mother, chiefly her bedding a new face out of the emptiness of her life—one wonders how Helen met Jo’s father, and if he was really any different than the others.)
Much-deserved credit also goes to the cast, with every wonderful performance—Tushingham was recognized by the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes and the Cannes Film Festival; Bryan also took home a BAFTA; Melvin earned himself an award at Cannes—an addition that greatly aids the texture of the film, its style and its legacy.
Video: 1.66:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Directors film scanner from the 35 mm original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for jitter, flicker, small dirt, grain, and noise management.”
A TASTE OF HONEY looks excellent in its Criterion Collection debut. Details are fine, contrast is strong and the overall image has a nice healthy look to it, which is a pleasant aspect considering the film is now 55 years old.
Audio: English Mono. “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35 mm original sound negative. This element was transferred at the British Film Institute National Archive in Berkhamsted, England, using Sondor’s Resonances optical soundtrack scanner system. Digital restoration was performed by the Criterion Collection using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX 4.”
The audio has an organic feel to it, which adds to the style of the film.
MOMMA DON’T ALLOW (21:11): Director Tony Richardson’s short documentary made as part of the Free Cinema movement in Britain.
Tony Richardson (15:02): This audio interview with Richardson, conducted at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival, finds the writer/director discussing his techniques and A TASTE OF HONEY.
The Actors: Housed here are new interviews with Rita Tushingham (18:17) and Murray Melvin (18:38), who play Jo and Geoffrey, respectively.
Walter Lassally (19:51): In this 1998 video essay, cinematographer Lassally reflects on working with Richardson, specifically on A TASTE OF HONEY.
Remaking British Theater (21:30): Here, theater scholar Kate Dorney discusses the original London production of Shelagh Delaney’s play and the theater scene at the time of its run.
CLOSE-UP (15:17): Taken from a 1960 episode of the television series CLOSE-UP, this interview finds playwright Delaney touching on her younger years and her breakthrough play.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is an essay by film scholar Colin MacCabe.