A Kind of Loving is regarded as a milestone in the way that British cinema was directed and viewed. John Schlesinger, the director, and his compelling honesty and directness of the innate problems and of working class life was an experience new to cinema viewers, and one that was bold enough to produce a short – yet glorious – revolution in the British film industry. It sparked off the beginning of a new genre, called ‘new realism’, or ‘kitchen sink’ drama. The fact that the film was one of the earliest to be almost entirely filmed on location (in the dreary back streets of Lancashire industrial towns) also added to its distinction.
This genre was doomed to die a premature death in the public’s eye by the mid-sixties, with the advent of fashion, prosperity, and youth culture. By the time the Beatles rose to dominance in the ‘Swinging Sixties’, people were no longer interested in viewing about the hardships of people at the lower end of society, and instead wanted a peek at the supposed new prosperity that everybody was enjoying. Yet, the legacy of A Kind of Loving was such that even today, many films are made with respect to it and the genre it developed.
In particular, I feel that it was Schlesinger’s great gift of combining both a sensitive portrayal with gritty social realism that created a film and a genre that would continue to endear for many years, and that would take its place amongst the milestones of British cinema. In order to support the statement made that Schlesinger produced a film both perceptive and sensitive, we must analyse the movie and produce sufficient proof from scenes within the movie. However, we first need an introduction to the general information about this film. A Kind of Loving is a 112 min long, black and white drama.
Its genre is that of ‘social realism’, and it was produced in 1962. It was directed by John Schlesinger, and it was based on a novel written by Stan Barstow of the same name. It starred Alan Bates, newcomer June Ritchie, and Thora Hird. A Kind of Loving follows the life of an easygoing Lancashire lad, Vic Brown (Alan Bates), who works as a draughtsman in a local factory. Vic’s happy-go-lucky life begins to disintegrate as he starts to take notice of a woman in the typing pool, Ingrid Rothwell (June Ritchie), first at his sister’s wedding, then increasingly more at work.
Finally, following her onto a bus, their romance finally starts as they agree to a date, and more quickly follow. When Ingrid’s mother, Mrs Rothwell (Thora Hird), is absent from town, Vic takes the opportunity and sleeps with Ingrid. Ingrid becomes pregnant and, oppressed by society and especially Ingrid’s irate mother, Vic agrees to marry her. Their relationship, which is still shown to have some elements of caring, is quickly ruined as they are forced to live with the tyrannical Mrs Rothwell, who shows great signs of dislike to Vic.
When Ingrid suffers a miscarriage, and Mrs Rothwell does not even bother to call Vic, he realises, after a debate with himself, that their relationship is a weak bond, but even that should not be threatened. The ending gives us a glimpse of hope as Vic and Ingrid decide to live elsewhere to pursue ‘a kind of loving’. The film reflects on how social and economic pressures impact on sexuality and relationships. Class, politics, working life, changing attitudes about gender and marriage, and even scarcity of cheap housing are all referred to or explored.
Against the wider social backdrop the character of Ingrid’s mother represents repression and rigidity to a large degree, although even she is shown with some saving graces. All the characters here are cast in shades of grey, all internally conflicted, all in a cauldron of social pressures. This prevailing mood of the film is established in a number of different ways. Schlesinger uses slightly sinister, yet melodious theme music to represent the fact that the society we live in isn’t perfect, but it is the only real way we are allowed to live.
Thus in many ways does the film show almost documentary realism. The use of black and white also emphasises the fact that the world imposed upon Vic and Ingrid by society is one of cheerlessness. Schlesinger uses clever lightning techniques to illustrate his points: for example, some of the more emotional of Vic’s and Ingrid’s meetings take place in dark areas at night, signifying that they are conducting illicit rendezvous. Also, Schlesinger uses location and setting very skilfully to represent the different shades of society.
For example, we come to link the park where Vic and Ingrid meet with words such as ‘communicate’, ‘happiness’, and ‘love’, whereas Mrs Rothwell’s house comes to be known as ‘imprisonment’, ‘oppression’, and even ‘domination’. The opening scene establishes the mood and the atmosphere for the rest of the film. It starts with a slightly unconventional opening for that time: we are shown a shot of the slum-like buildings of the industrial north that slowly sweeps down to the streets where children are playing.
The weather is that of a typical grim, wintry day, and the signs of poverty are exposed immediately by Schlesinger: the children are wearing rather ragged clothes, the street is not properly sewered, and the buildings are terraced, back-to-back houses, reserved for the lower end of society. In spite of this, his next shots manage to convince us that this type of world is not all bad: on the contrary, the happiness of the next few shots is profound. With the children happily playing, a nearby church is planning a wedding.
This is portrayed by the director as one of joy, and connected by love; the pure happiness in the eyes of the betrothed, the proud look of the parents, and the harmless bickering of the old women who are uninvited spectators, prove this. It is only during the photograph session (another proof of a perfect wedding: both bride and groom are positively delighted in having their picture taken) that the title of the film is shown. This serves to draw us into the world, and adds to the realistic ‘gritty socialism’ feel that Schlesinger tries to evoke within us.
Markedly, however, the director shows us the film shall not examine the loves of the perfect love-birds, but rather the bride’s brother Vic, and a woman who we do not yet know the name of. Schlesinger establishes the importance of these two people by his close-ups of them in the middle of all the tumultuous proceedings at the wedding. No one else at the wedding, not even the bride and groom, are inspected by camera so closely. He also devotes a disproportionately large amount of time towards them staring at each other, where other scenes pass more quickly.
It is in these opening scenes that Schlesinger establishes both purposefulness and ambiguity. His purposefulness comes with the statement made by Vic, “I’m not gonna get married. ” This is shortly after he exchanges the deep look with Ingrid. Due to this line, tensions are established early, and we know that Schlesinger will not allow their relationship to proceed in as perfect a way as that of Vic’s sister. We are also very early reminded that this is because of pressure of society; with many, many old women standing around pointedly commenting, “Oh, they’re a perfect couple. Schlesinger’s ambiguity, however, comes in the form of the wedding itself. For although he shows the town in probably some of its grimmest locations, there can be no mistake about the joy and fulfilment of the soon-to-be-wedded. He shows that some can live peacefully within the constraints of society, while hinting that for some it will never be possible. He thus investigates both sectors of people with honesty and sensitivity, giving examples of both. Another scene where Schlesinger shines is the scenes where Vic follows Ingrid onto the bus, eventually almost up to her house, and asks for a date, a proposition to which Ingrid accepts.
Schlesinger catches both Vic and Ingrid in the same shots in a particular way: sometimes with Vic the object of the close-up with Ingrid in the background, and sometimes vice-versa. It is in this scene especially that Schlesinger makes us relate to Vic and Ingrid, for their awkwardness and their inarticulate manner prevents them from revealing their love for each other. This love in Vic is obvious to the viewer, by the way he jumps onto the bus with her and also how he makes an excuse concerning bus fares to talk to Ingrid.
From Ingrid’s expressions and movements, and especially the way she smiles after talking to him and looking away, suggests that she has found her ‘knight in shining armour’. This continues as they walk with each other, and up to the moment they agree on a date, with symbolist church bells in the background noise. However, Schlesinger does not fully allow this relationship to develop into giddy heights of bliss, by again emphasising the difference in Ingrid’s social background by the far shot which holds Vic, Ingrid, and the road leading to Ingrid’s semi-detached houses.
The shot remains as Vic and Ingrid walk off in different paths, symbolising that society decrees that it would be best if they were to continue on their separate paths. In the next few shots, Schlesinger again cleverly constructs scenes which show both the social pressures and what seems to be at this point the great romance between Vic and Ingrid. For example, not only is Vic jogging home in happy spirits, with streetlights coming on, both symbols of love and a ‘great light’ entering Vic’s life, but he is returning surrounded by slum-like, back-to-back housing.
The position of him in society is further revealed as he steps into his house, which is quite small and cramped. Nevertheless, it is cheerful within, again illustrating Schlesinger’s remarkable gift of being unbiased and using the camera to let us make the decisions. After the affair between Vic and Ingrid starts, Schlesinger’s skill as a director stands out in many different scenes. While at a coffee shop, a normal location for couples of the sixties, Schlesinger shows very well what Vic is feeling about Ingrid. By this time, their relationship has begun to sour.
The panning camera as Ingrid talks shows that Vic’s mind is wandering, and what he sees is incredibly symbolic. He sees a happy, young couple talking, representing what Vic wishes his relationship is like with Ingrid. The camera sweeps to a bunch of boys having a drink and joking around. Schlesinger shows us that Vic is missing these kinds of experiences. Finally, the camera rests on an old couple, who are not speaking or looking at each other, and look as if every single day they have spent in each other’s life has been full of misery.
On seeing this, Vic realises that this could be what him and Ingrid will turn out to be. The director is full of sympathy for Vic here, showing us his frame of mind in a sensitive way, as well as revealing that Vic perhaps has different desires to Ingrid. Schlesinger also sensitively portrays Ingrid many times, and shows us that what she longs for is a loving, steady husband, so that she can settle down, have kids, and conform to society. Schlesinger, as already has been noted, is also adept at demonstrating the way relationships work between adolescents.
In particular, his scene of Vic and Ingrid in a park shed kissing is very powerful. Not only does he show us skilfully that Ingrid is worried about how she appears to Vic, by her asking if he ‘thinks she is common’, but Schlesinger also contrasts this scene of great love with scenes where Vic cannot stand the sight of Ingrid. The graffiti in the park shed, in the form of ‘I Love Adam’, is ambivalent in its meaning. On the one hand, the reference here to Adam and Eve could be that of great, unbreakable passion and love; on the other, it could be that he is saying the relationships will eventually dissolve in sin.
Again, it is up to the viewer to decide. Schlesinger also continues to address his social conformation issue here, both by having factories in the background, and by the embarrassed way Vic and Ingrid pause in the middle of their conductions when a person passes by. Another powerful scene occurs after Vic and Ingrid make love. The camera is absolutely still, staring down the middle as the two character stand on the two edges of the screen, both ashamed, reserved, and totally impassionate.
The severity of the angle and length of the shot makes for an uncomfortable feeling to the viewer, just as the two characters would be feeling. After pregnancy, and a hasty marriage, Schlesinger again shows just how unpredictable love can be, for on their honeymoon vacation, Vic and Ingrid truly seem to posses a passion for each other. However, their return to Mrs Rothwell’s (Ingrid’s mother) house creates a stifling atmosphere for Vic. Through continuing sensitive portrayal, the point of view of Vic is shown.
Here, of all scenes, the message that Schlesinger tries to communicate throughout the film becomes most obvious: that in spite of all the problems, and interferences, and wrong intentions of the couple, Vic and Ingrid could easily have lived a semi-happy life together, if it were not for one external influence. And that influence is the fact that they were forced to conform to society. At the end, the fact that Vic and Ingrid decide to find their own residence to try for ‘a kind of loving’ emphasises the message once again, and brings Schlesinger’s work to a close.
Schlesinger, in my opinion, succeeds amazingly well in producing a film that showcases his opinion that the society of the day, and the pressure of conforming to it, can ruin relationships and lives. His sensitive portrayal of all the characters forced to live within this set of rules only adds to the beauty with which the film is made, as he does not make rash comments against specific kinds of people. To create such a truly eye-opening film about the day’s society’s problems, while still balancing views of all, is truly a task that should be regarded as a milestone in the history of British cinema.