british new wave

est. 1950s – 1960s

The British New Wave, also known as the Kitchen Sink movement, was a transformative era in British cinema that emerged in the late 1950s and continued till the late 1960s. It was a period marked by a fresh, raw, and socially conscious approach to filmmaking that defied the conventions of the British cinema of the time.

Origins of the British New Wave

The British New Wave was a response to the stagnation of British cinema in the post-World War II era, which was characterized by the dominance of period dramas, costume pieces and tales of the aristocracy. As a result, a group of young, working-class filmmakers emerged with films that reflected the gritty reality of post-war Britain, particularly the lives of the working class and the disaffected youth.

 

The movement was closely associated with a wave of “Angry Young Men” writers, such as John Osborne and Alan Sillitoe, whose plays and novels provided the source material for many of the films of this era. Notable examples include Osborne’s play “Look Back in Anger,” which was later adapted into a film. It also drew influence from prior film movements like Italian Neorealism.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) by Karel Reisz
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) by Karel Reisz

Characteristics of the British New Wave

The British New Wave was characterized by its commitment to social realism. Filmmakers aimed to portray the everyday lives and struggles of ordinary Britons. They used real locations set in working-class neighborhoods, non-professional actors and naturalistic dialogue. The films of the British New Wave often critiqued the establishment, including the British class system, the educational system and the political status quo.

 

The movement was known for its distinctive visual style, characterized by handheld cameras, location shooting and a rejection of glossy studio production. The rough and unvarnished aesthetics matched the rawness of the narratives.

 

Filmmakers employed a range of narrative techniques, including non-linear storytelling and flashbacks. These innovations helped convey the inner lives of the characters and their complex emotions.

Important Filmmakers and Films

Tony Richardson is considered to be one of the most important figures of the British New Wave. His film “Look Back in Anger” (1959), based on John Osborne’s play, is a seminal work of the movement and is credited with helping defining it.

 

Another central figure of the movement was Karel Reisz, who directed the iconic film “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” (1960) that explores the life of a young factory worker in Nottingham. It is considered a quintessential work of the movement and contributed greatly to the portrayal of gritty, working-class life on screen.

 

Palme d’Or winner Lindsay Anderson, directed now cult classic “if….” (1968) and “This Sporting Life (1963). His work highlighted the alienation and disaffection with educational and health care system experienced by the British population during this period.

Kes (1969) bt Ken Loach
Kes (1969) by Ken Loach

Legacy and Influence of the British New Wave

The British New Wave, with its gritty portrayal of working-class life, critical examination of societal issues and narrative innovation, remains a pivotal chapter in the history of cinema. Filmmakers used their films to capture the essence of post-war Britain, contributing to a movement that challenged the status quo and paved the way for a more realistic and socially conscious approach to filmmaking. The legacy of the British New Wave extends far beyond its time. The commitment to portray the realities of working-class life, and its embrace of narrative innovation continue to inspire filmmakers globally.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) by Tony Richardson
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) by Tony Richardson
This Sporting Life (1963) by Lindsay Anderson
This Sporting Life (1963) by Lindsay Anderson

Please refer to the Listed Films for the recommended works associated with the film movement.