Look Back in Anger

John Osborne
Optimum Releasing DVD

Look Back in Anger

This DVD is a real treat. The starting point was the mould-breaking Royal Court production that arguably changed the face of British theatre forever. However, that creative team led by John Osborne and his director Tony Richardson have done far more than merely translated a theatre production onto celluloid.

This 1959 release, scripted by Nigel Kneale with assistance from Osborne, both encompasses and goes beyond the stage production, making it a fascinating addition to anybody's DVD collection. It is also an interesting contrast with the Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson Renaissance version of the play, which is still available on DVD and well worth a look.

The acting link with the Royal Court is Mary Ure, who once again plays poor, tragic Alison, the wife of the disappointed graduate turned loudmouthed market stall salesman, Jimmy Porter.

On this occasion, a smouldering Richard Burton plays Jimmy and makes him far meaner than the stage version. Sympathy for his plight only really comes late in the film as first he mourns the death of his old mentor (played by Edith Evans) and then offers great support to a downtrodden Asian market colleague and belatedly, his wife.

This Jimmy is a really nasty piece of work, who is willing to fight and provoke anyone and everyone, including a wife whom he clearly loves and his best friend, Gary Raymond's Cliff, who, like Alison, is eventually pushed too far.

Jimmy's attitude (with a capital "A") makes the bittersweet relationship that Jimmy develops with Alison's best friend, a pretty actress called Helen played by Claire Bloom, completely fiery.

The claustrophobic ménage enjoyed by the four flatmates remains while the scriptwriters have fleshed out the world around them expertly.

Not only does this give us a more rounded picture of Jimmy and Alison in particular, it also enables some of the cream of the British theatre fifty years ago the chance to make cameo appearances. The cast includes the Royal Court's artistic director George Devine, Glen Byam Shaw, Phyllis Neilson-Terry and the ever-watchable Donald Pleasance.

This version of Look Back in Anger should be on everybody's wish list for some sparkling acting but also a script that provides 95 minutes of non-stop drama. There is also a strange bonus in the form of the American film trailer, which does the movie few favours but is extremely funny in its efforts to make something that is already dramatic, melodramatic in the worst Hollywood sense.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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