Look Back in Anger, 1958

Based on playwright John Osborne’s groundbreaking 1956 play that re-energized London theater with its gritty, unsentimental portrait of the working class and ushered a politically charged, socially conscious literary movement that the critics would collectively dub the “Angry Young Men”, Tony Richardson’s Look Back in Anger bears all the ugliness and unflinching brutality of a rootless generation struggling to find its identity and sense of place in a profoundly transformed postwar society at the dawn of a receded, British empire. At the heart of this cultural evisceration is Jimmy Porter (Richard Burton), a volatile, underemployed university graduate and struggling jazz musician who makes a living selling candy at an open market stall. Lashing out at his limited opportunity and unrealized ambition through displaced acts of aggression, often directed at his devoted and long suffering wife, Alison (Mary Ure) and his enabling best friend and boarder, Cliff (Gary Raymond) who provides a tempering influence for his escalating abuse but, nevertheless, feel helpless in deflecting his inflicted violence, Jimmy is soon brought to the brink when Alison invites her headstrong friend, an actress named Helena Charles (Claire Bloom) to stay during her appearance at a local theater – an implicit act of defiance that will lead Alison closer to regaining her own identity and self-esteem, even as Helena begins to be seduced by Jimmy’s reckless, mercurial charm. Perhaps the most emblematic of the film’s integral connection between the turmoil of a fading postwar – and more importantly, post-colonial – British society and its manifestation on the younger generation is illustrated in the market community’s blatantly racist treatment of the clothing merchant and recent immigrant, Kapoor (S.P. Kapoor) who, having undersold his competitors (and unfairly denounced by a dissatisfied customer who is unable to identify her actual vendor but insists that he make reparations on behalf of other vendors of his ethnicity), is forced out of business by other merchants who force the revocation of his vending license. Kapoor’s racially motivated eviction serves as a metaphor for a class-entrenched British society’s uneasy path towards postwar recovery and eroding international status, where deep seated notions of inheritance and entitlement often contradict with the economic realities of decolonization, equal rights, and free market opportunity. It is this symptomatic social disorientation that inevitably aligns Jimmy’s impotent rage, not with Kapoor’s resigned fate, but with the arbitrary cruelty of the accusers whom Jimmy ironically reproaches – a paradoxical struggle between the ideals of egalitarianism and the frustrated expectation of untenable privilege.

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