|Room at the Top|
|Directed by||Jack Clayton|
|Screenplay by||Neil Paterson|
|Based on||Room at the Top|
by John Braine
|Produced by||John Woolf|
|Edited by||Ralph Kemplen|
|Music by||Mario Nascimbene|
|Distributed by||British Lion Films (UK)|
Continental Distributing (US)
|Box office||$2,400,000 (US)|
Room at the Top is a 1959 British film based on the 1957 novel of the same name by John Braine. The novel was adapted by Neil Paterson with uncredited work by Mordecai Richler. It was directed by Jack Clayton in his feature-length directorial debut and produced by John and James Woolf. The film stars Laurence Harvey, Simone Signoret, Heather Sears, Donald Wolfit, Donald Houston and Hermione Baddeley.
Room at the Top was widely lauded, and was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning Best Actress for Signoret and Best Adapted Screenplay for Paterson. Its other nominations included Best Picture, Best Director for Clayton, Best Actor for Harvey, and Best Supporting Actress for Baddeley. Baddeley's performance, consisting of 2 minutes and 19 seconds of screen time, became the shortest ever to be nominated for an acting Oscar.
In late 1940s West Riding of Yorkshire, England, Joseph (Joe) Lampton, an ambitious man who has just moved from the dreary factory town of Dufton, arrives in Warnley to assume a secure, poorly paid post in the Borough Treasurer's Department. Determined to succeed, and ignoring the warnings of a colleague Soames, he pursues Susan Brown, daughter of the local industrial magnate Mr. Brown. Mr. and Mrs. Brown deal with Joe's social climbing by sending Susan abroad.
Joe turns for solace to Alice Aisgill, an unhappily married, older woman who came to England from France as a teacher and married a haughty and abusive upper-class Englishman, who is now having an affair with his secretary. Joe and Alice also have an affair, but he continues his pursuit of Susan upon her return home. Once he has had sex with her, however, he loses interest and admits to himself that he truly loves Alice. Alice is overjoyed by Joe's decision to end his quest for wealth and social status in favour of simply being happy with himself and with her. The two of them decide that she should ask for a divorce from her brutal husband George Aisgill. George refuses and declares that he will ruin Joe and Alice, both socially and financially, if their relationship continues. Meanwhile, Susan's father delivers the news that Susan is pregnant; he expects Joe immediately to stop seeing Alice, marry Susan and come to work for him as an executive.
After Joe tells Alice that he will marry Susan, the heartbroken Alice gets drunk in a pub, drives to a hill where she and Joe used to go together, and crashes her car. She is mortally injured and dies slowly over the ensuing hours. Upon hearing the terrible news in his office, Joe goes to the flat where he and Alice had their trysts. Elspeth, a friend of Alice who owns this flat, arrives and screams at Joe that he has murdered Alice. Distraught over the loss of Alice and blaming himself for her death, Joe goes to a pub to drown his sorrow in alcohol. After being beaten unconscious by a gang of thugs for "stealing" one of their women, Joe is recovered by Soames in time to marry Susan. With that, and his new job with Susan's father, Joe has at last accomplished all of the goals that he had so long sought, but that he no longer desires. Susan is euphoric, and Joe is devastated.
- Laurence Harvey as Joe Lampton
- Simone Signoret as Alice Aisgill
- Heather Sears as Susan Brown
- Ambrosine Phillpotts as Mrs Brown
- Donald Wolfit as Mr Brown
- Donald Houston as Charlie Soames
- Hermione Baddeley as Elspeth
- Allan Cuthbertson as George Aisgill
- Raymond Huntley as Mr Hoylake
- John Westbrook as Jack Wales
- Richard Pasco as Teddy
- Beatrice Varley as Aunt
- Delena Kidd as Eva
- Ian Hendry as Cyril
- April Olrich as Mavis
- Mary Peach as June Samson
- Anthony Newlands as Bernard
- Avril Elgar as Miss Gilchrist
- Thelma Ruby as Miss Breith
- Paul Whitsun-Jones as Laughing Man at Bar
- Derren Nesbitt as Thug in Fight on Tow Path
- Derek Benfield as Man in bar
- Richard Caldicot as Taxi driver
- Wendy Craig as Joan
- Basil Dignam as Priest
- Jack Hedley as Architect
- Miriam Karlin as Gertrude
- Wilfrid Lawson as Uncle Nat
- Julian Somers at St Clair
- Prunella Scales as Council Office Worker
- John Welsh as Mayor
There are some differences from Braine's novel. His friend Charlie Soames, whom he meets at Warnley in the film, is a friend from his hometown Dufton in the novel. Also, Warnley is called Warley in the book. More emphasis is paid to his lodging at Mrs Thompson's, which in the novel he has arranged beforehand (in the film, his friend Charlie arranges it soon after they meet). In the book, the room is itself significant, and is strongly emphasised early in the story; Mrs Thompson's room is noted as being at "the top" of Warley geographically, and higher up socially than he has previously experienced. It also serves as a metaphor for Lampton's ambition to rise in the world.
Producer James Woolf bought the film rights to the novel, intending to cast Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons. Vivien Leigh was offered the part of Alice. He hired Jack Clayton as director after seeing The Bespoke Overcoat, a short, on which John Woolf had worked (uncredited) and their film company had produced.
Room at the Top is thought to be the first of the British New Wave of Kitchen sink realism film dramas. It was filmed at Shepperton Studios in Surrey, with extensive location work in Halifax, Yorkshire, which stood in for the fictional towns of Warnley and Dufton. Some scenes were filmed in Bradford, notably with Joe travelling on a bus and spotting Susan in a lingerie shop and the outside of the amateur dramatics theatre. Greystones, a large mansion in the Savile Park area of Halifax, was used for location filming of the outside scenes of the Brown family mansion; Halifax railway station doubled as Warnley Station in the film, and Halifax Town Hall was used for the Warnley Town Hall filming.
Room at the Top was followed by a sequel in 1965 titled Life at the Top.
The film was critically acclaimed and marked the beginning of Jack Clayton's career as an important director. It became the third most popular film at the British box office in 1959 after Carry On Nurse and Inn of the Sixth Happiness grossing $700,000.
Awards and nominations
- Life at the Top – the 1965 sequel
- Man at the Top, a 1970 TV series featuring Joe Lampton in later life.
- BFI Top 100 British films
- Alexander Walker (1974). Hollywood, England. Stein and Day. p. 50.
- "M-G-M CASHING IN ON OSCAR VICTORY: ' Ben-Hur' Gross Expected to Reach 7 Million by Week's End -- 'Spartacus' Booked". New York Times. 7 April 1960. p. 44.
- "Academy Awards Database: Room at the Top". awardsdatabase.oscars.org. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 8 October 2016.[permanent dead link]
- "Screen Time Central: Shortest Performances". screentimecentral.com. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
- David Thomson Have You Seen, London: Allen Lane; New York: Knopf, 2008, p.736
- Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p51
- Roberts, Andrew (21 June 2009). "The film that changed British Cinema". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
- "British 'Room' Rousing $19,500 Sets London Pix Pace". Variety. 4 February 1959. p. 13. Retrieved 4 July 2019 – via Archive.org.
- The Times, 1 January 1960, page 13: Year of Profitable British Films - The Times Digital Archive, accessed 11 July 2012
- "Gag-Films Rule British Trade". Variety. 20 April 1960. p. 47 – via Archive.org.
- "Festival de Cannes: Room at the Top". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 15 February 2009.