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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » A Taste of Honey (Blu-ray)
A Taste of Honey (Blu-ray)
Criterion // Unrated // August 23, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted September 7, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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A Taste of Honey Blu-ray Review

A Taste of Honey is a British-drama film based upon the acclaimed play written by Shelagh Delaney. The film is by acclaimed director Tony Richardson (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner), who also produced it and co-wrote the screenplay with original author Delaney. A Taste of Honey would go on to win four BAFTA awards (including Best British Film). The BFI (British Film Institute) also named it the 56th greatest British film of all time.

This is a film all about the relationships of the characters. The story explores these relationships on a multitude of levels. It explores the story of a mother and daughter and their relationships with other individuals in their lives. Jo (Rita Tushingham), the daughter, is rebellious to her mother Helen (Dora Bryan) and doesn't care much for her mother's boyfriend Peter (Robert Stephens): who insists Helen choose between a comfortable life with him or a life with her daughter.

During this period of tumultuous troubles with her mother, Jo meets a black sailor named Jimmy (Paul Danquah). The two begin an interracial relationship before Jimmy has to head back out to sea again. A romance stirs between them. Jo becomes pregnant, and because of this, she begins to wonder about the life her baby would have to endure (as the baby would be born a interracial child). She wants to keep the child but understands the harsh societal issues this would cause for both her and her child's life.

When Jo is faced with moving out to live on her own, she winds up meeting and befriending Geoffrey Ingham (Murray Melvin), a young gay man who moves in with her and helps her around the house. This relationship is one of mutual-admiration and respect. The pair are inseparable upon their meeting: they are playful friends.

A Taste of Honey is ahead of it's time for its early portrayal of an interracial relationship and also because Geoffrey Ingham is one of the first gay characters in British cinema. It also portrays the struggle of a single mother raising her daughter (which was not commonly portrayed in films during the time, either). The film and play were controversial because of these aspects of the story. The heightened racism and homophobia of the time made the story all the more rare.

The performances by the cast are excellent throughout. Rita Tushingham delivers a strong performance as Jo. Her performance is fearless. Murray Melvin delivers a noteworthy performance as Geoffrey Ingham. The cast aid the quality of the filmmaking with their impressive, character-focused performances.

The music score was composed by John Addison (A Bridge Too Far). The music used in the film blends well with the filmmaking style. Addison's score isn't especially showy and it's certainly a lower-key score but the music is effective and adds to the film's unique style.

The cinematography by Walter Lassally (Zorba the Greek, Tom Jones) adds a great deal to the filmmaking. It's one of the greatest things about the film. It's exquisitely shot, composed, and framed. The use of light and darkness is effective in many sequences and gives a fascinating style that is highly artistic and evocative. This is gorgeous black and white cinematography which displays great creative gusto on the part of the cinematographer.

Edited by Antony Gibbs  (Ronin, Dune, Fiddler on the Roof), A Taste of Honey seems to have a notably different editing style than many films produced during the time period. This is, of course, due in part to the direction by Tony Richardson as well but the film's frequently quick-cut scenes are definitely different from the slower-paced editing of many films produced during the time period. It's a commendable and impressive effort by Gibbs.

The art direction by Ralph W. Brinton  (Moby Dick, Odd Man Out) gives the film a decidedly theatrical feeling. Many scenes, from an art-direction standpoint, retain that theatrical feeling inherent to plays: the layout of the stage design, the use of props, and other elements that are theatrical. The art direction is quite effective and befitting.

The screenplay was written by Shelagh Delaney (Dance with a Stranger, Charlie Bubbles) with director Tony Richardson. The script was based on Shelagh Delaney's play of the same name, which had been a massive success in the British theater world. The film adaptation reportedly stays close to the play with only small changes and embellishments, including minor changes that give the film a more cinematic ending.

Delaney, who wrote the play in ten days and before the age of 20, had been determined to write a play that would be better than one she had seen performed at the Opera House in Manchester. Her success with working on the film is also notable as she succeeded at working on the film during a period of time where not as many female writers were being produced. Delaney's ambition and sheer determination paid off with A Taste of Honey, which earned her and Richardson the Best British Screenplay award at the BAFTA's.

Directed by Tony Richardson (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner), A Taste of Honey was something of an experimental work for the director. The idea was to tell a more character based story of normal British characters: a human-drama about the working-class people. The director, who had much experience working in the British theater world before turning to film and television, continued to develop his style with this production. The style is certainly unique and impressive. Richardson recruited a great group of artists to work on this production and the totality of the effort feels cutting-edge. The energy of the filmmaking is quite apparent. 

A Taste of Honey is certainly an important work of its time. Though the film is somewhat dated now (at least in some respects),  it's certainly a film which is considered important in the legacy of British filmmaking. While it's not a masterpiece (there are some sequences and aspects that aren't as impressive), A Taste of Honey still stands as an important work in British cinema.

The Blu-ray:


Video:

A Taste of Honey arrives on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection with a restored 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded presentation. The film is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 widescreen. It is a stunning presentation of the film.

The film received a 4K restoration which has removed thousands of instances of dirt, debris, print damage, and other detriments. This is an incredible restoration effort. The film looks as though it were a more modern production. The level of detail and clarity is exquisite. The lush black and white cinematography has beautiful, deep blacks. Contrast is excellent throughout. The film looks naturally filmic. The film looks pristine and that is quite remarkable, indeed.  

Audio:

The film is presented with an excellent uncompressed PCM mono (1.0) 24 bit sound presentation. This is a beautiful reproduction of the original sound design of the film. The dialogue clarity is excellent throughout. The music sounds exquisite as well. This is a first rate presentation of the film. Given the age of the source materials, the restoration work done here is absolutely incredible.

Subtitles are provided in English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing).


Extras:

The release includes a printed leaflet containing an essay on the film and information on the Criterion Collection release.

On disc supplements include:

Momma Don't Allow (HD, 22 min.), a short film made by Richardson. It was an early directing effort and it focuses on the events of a jazz club. It's focus is primarily on the music and dance within the club.

Interviews

Tony Richardson (HD, 15 min.) discusses the film and his experiences working in both cinema and in the theater.

Rita Tushingham (HD, 19 min.) explores and discusses her work on A Taste of Honey and it's place in her career as an actress.

Murray Melvin (HD, 19 min.) discusses the film's cinematic legacy and the importance of his role in the film.

Walter Lassally (HD, 20 min.) speaks about the cinematography process involved in the making of the film.

Remaking British Theater (HD, 22 min.) contains an interview with a film scholar about the film's importance to both British theater and film.

Close Up (SD, 16 min.) is an archival interview with writer Shelagh Delaney about her success following A Taste of Honey.

Final Thoughts:

A Taste of Honey is an interesting piece of cinema history which discussed issues of the time in a way that was uncommon. The film features strong performances by the lead cast. It is a film that weaves together the style of both theater and cinema in a strong way.

The Criterion Collection release is exceptional with in-depth supplements and a stunning 4K restoration of the film. The release is well worth owning for fans of the film.

Highly Recommended.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema, and a student who aspires to make movies. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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