Room at the Top

Room at the Top cover

The grass is supposed to be greener on the other side of the West Riding of Yorkshire, Joe Lampton moving from his hometown of Dufton, still bearing the scars of the war, his own parents having been killed by what can only be presumed to be a stray bomb, to Warnley where he has secured a post in the treasury of the local government offices, taking accommodation with new colleague, the happy-go-lucky Charlie Soames.

Attempting to insert himself into the social circles of what he hopes will be a “different class of people,” he finds he is frustrated by the parents of Susan Brown, her father a local councillor and powerful businessman and she a classist snob who block his attempts to see Susan, aided by Jack Wales who served as an RAF officer while Joe was only a sergeant, Joe instead finding himself increasingly in the company of French émigré Alice Aisgill, a few years older than him with all the confidence and experience that brings but in a loveless marriage with philandering businessman George.

Room at the Top; Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey) is shown the ropes of the office by Charlie Soames (Donald Houston) while spying something better to keep him busy out of work hours.

A film of class division and thwarted ambitions, Room at the Top was the debut novel of Bradford born John Braine, published in 1957 and adapted as a film of the same directed by Jack Clayton, starring The Silent Enemy’s Laurence Harvey as Joe, Les Diaboliques‘ Simone Signoret as Alice and Moonbase 3‘s Donald Houston as Charlie, the latter interested in Enemy of the World’s Mary Peach but wary that he would not only be married to Jane but also her invalid mother, while Joe’s aunt (Horror of the Black Museum’s Beatrice Varley) cautions him not to marry for money.

Joe a man who knows what he wants and is impatient to have it, pushing his way in but engendering resentment in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, he studied accounting while in a prisoner of war camp but feels he will never be seen to be as good as the Brown family and the man they feel to be a more appropriate suitor for their daughter, Joe kept at a distance as he looks enviously at the big houses on the hill and all they entail, the prestigious area or Warnley known as “the Top.”

Room at the Top; trapped in an unhappy marriage, Alice Aisgill (Simone Signoret) allows herself to become close to Joe (Laurence Harvey).

Released in 1959 to huge acclaim including two Academy Awards for Signoret and Neil Paterson’s script with another four nominations, Room at the Top is set in the late forties, that decade gap allowed a light to be shone on post-war Britain in a way that the “Dunkirk spirit” of the films made immediately after the event would not have allowed, showing struggle and dissent as a nation tried to find and understand itself in a changed world, those who had served relegated back to the status of underlings.

Closer to the bleak honesty of the “kitchen sink” dramas of the sixties than the naïve optimism of such as A Kid for Two Farthings, Joe’s anger not only self-destructive but bringing down those closest to him, while he ultimately achieves what he wants the cost is high, his elevated status moving him only to a larger cage where the gilded bars are his own misery and guilt, his beautiful young bride a dullard who can never compare to the love he abandoned.

Room at the Top will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download from StudioCanal from Monday 11th March

Room at the Top; Joe (Laurence Harvey) finally gets what he thought he wanted with his marriage to Susan (Heather Sears).



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