christie460It’s 50 years  since the release of Room at the Top, a classic British film starring Laurence Harvey and Simone Signoret. Room at the Top is one of the films of the New Wave movement: films made by a group of young people who wanted to show Britain in the Fifties and early Sixties as it really was. Katerina Vasiliou walks us through some of the movement’s highlights, and with austerity Britain making a come back in the form of the dreary credit crunch, why not try injecting some New Wave style into your life and party like it’s 1959.

The New Wave Movement charts the transition from post-war austerity to the cool of the swinging Sixties. The films introduced the world to the rising British youth culture and allow us today to see why our parents had so much fun.

mommaaa1Momma Don’t Allow (1956)

This documentary was one of the first New Wave films and tells the story of a group of teenagers who come together after a tiring week of menial work to dance at the Would Green Jazz Club at the Fishmongers’ Arms in north London. And boy can they dance. It’s funny to think that some of the trundling pensioners around London today could have been kicking their heels up with such exuberance over 50 years ago.

The club is full of Teddy boys in their sharp suits and carefully groomed “ducks arse” hair styles and young girls casually attired in cropped trousers and tight sweaters. The award for most enthusiastic reveller goes to the young woman with a chic bob who arrives late, divests herself of her swamping overcoat and in a flash is whipping up a storm on the dancefloor. She immediately attracts a crowd of boys keen up to take her hand and spin her faster. She is a fantastic dancer and certainly has moves worth copying!
Room at the Top (1959)

Inspired by the early documentaries of the New Wave movement, this film kickstarts a series of “kitchen sink” dramas set in the north of England where the natural accents and habits of the young working-class are on display. Smouldering Laurence Harvey plays a ruthless accountant, determined to work his way up the greasy pole to117success at any cost. He romances the daughter of a rich factory owner but his heart has been given to Simone Signoret, a married femme fatale.

Many scenes take place in a bijou flat borrowed from a friend where Harvey and Signoret steal precious moments together. The flat is decked out in cosy wartime chinz: the perfect setting for an illicit rendezvous. Signoret glides through the film with an air of melancholy, always wearing tailored black dresses underlining her role as the mysterious older woman.

Also notable is Heather Sears, who plays the wide-eyed and innocent rich girl whom Harvey is two-timing. She works cute twinsets and voluminous Fifties skirts that suit her youthful naivety. Her wedding dress at the end of the film (not to spoil the surprise) is absolutely gorgeous and is reminiscent of the wedding dress Queen Elizabeth wore 12 years earlier. Its opulence contrasts with the austerity of the rest of the film and emphasises that Harvey has finally made it.

The cinematography in this heartbreaking work is beautiful and often innovative. It’s a great film to watch curled up with someone you love on a wet Sunday afternoon.

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