Plot: What’s it about?
Twilight Time continues its steady stream of noteworthy films from yesteryear with the classic British New Wave drama The L-Shaped Room. This film was made around the same time as notable films like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Billy Liar, and other films that highlighted the lives of common British people. Adapted from the bestselling novel by Lynne Reid Banks by Bryan Forbes, the film was controversial at the time for its nonjudgmental views on sexuality before marriage. Now the film feels fairly old-fashioned and conservative. The times change quickly.
The film follows French emigre Jane Fossett (Leslie Caron) as she navigates life in Britain. She has come to London to have a baby from a man who she does not want to marry. She moves into a boarding house with a slew of interesting tenants including a novelist named Toby (Tom Bell,) an African neighbor named Johnny (Brock Peters,) and an aging spinster named Mavis (Cicely Courtneidge.) The living arrangements are in turn disgusting and baffling. She has insects in her mattress and her room (which is L-shaped) also has a window at the top of a wall which allows her neighbor Johnny to see directly into her room. At every turn, people advise Jane to terminate her pregnancy but she presses on. She bravely faces the judgement of society at every level while keeping the pregnancy. As she becomes closer to Johnny and Toby, Toby falls for her. She begins to see Toby to Johnny’s dismay. They fall in love while living in squalor.
This film was controversial when it was released because the protagonist of the film has a sexual relationship outside of marriage while carrying a child of another man. What was controversial then seems commonplace now, but the emotional impact of the characters’ actions still resonate years later. This is due to the film’s very honest approach to the material. The film tackles sexuality in a very clean manner, as if the actions of each character are perfectly natural (which they are.) It is just as honest about impoverished conditions and tenement life in London. This also was one of the first films (that I know of) to openly portray an older female character as a lesbian in an unanticipated moment in the film. I almost had to rewind the film to make sure I had inferred correctly, but the commentary confirmed it as well.
I appreciated the bravery of the storyline which revolved around a woman feeling pressure to not have a child. This is not uncommon for unmarried women, but it is not often portrayed on film. Leslie Caron is pretty lovely in her role and Tom Bell was a good match for her character. The direction by Bryan Forbes is slow-moving, but it manages to keep your attention. I think the film is sort of a slow-burn that leaves off meaningfully. This also means that repeat viewing might be a little limited, but I sat down to watch the commentary after my first viewing and enjoyed it again. The black and white cinematography by Douglas Slocombe is at turns evocative and linear depending on if the shots are inside or outside. Regardless, he does good work. I also should mention that the score to the film featuring incidental music by legendary composer John Barry relies heavily on classical music and is very well done.
Overall, if you like a well-made drama, it will appeal to you. It is not overly sentimental, but it does try to make you feel something. Fans of realistic dramas will enjoy.
Video: How’s it look?
Sony have provided a great-looking new transfer in 1080p with an MPEG-4 AVC encoding and 1.66:1 aspect ratio from the vaults at Columbia. Sony are the best in the business in my opinion, and this is another great example of how much pride they take in their work. Fine detail is exceptional. Black, gray, and white interact seamlessly under Sony’s careful quality control process. If I could have Sony develop film from my VHS tapes of my younger years, I would be able to relive my youth. That is how good they are at film preservation and restoration.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Twilight Time have provided a DTS-HD MA 1.0 track. It has excellent fidelity to the original elements. This is a great sounding track thanks to the beautifully composed score by John Barry. Using classical motifs, the film gains an extra air of elegance to the production from Barry’s compositions. All of this sounds great. The dialogue is clear and I did not notice any noticeable hiccups in the audio. Good stuff.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio commentary by Screenwriter Lem Dobbs, and film historians Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo – another great commentary by Twilight Time. One aspect of this commentary that makes it interesting is Nick’s knowledge of London from his childhood there. Like other commentaries from Twilight Time it is very loose and conversational. Lem Dobbs (who wrote the fantastic The Limey and Dark City) is a nice addition to the track. It was great to hear Julie and Nick back in business after a short break!
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Isolated Music and Effects Track
The Bottom Line
The L-Shaped Room is a good slice-of-life drama. Despite a relatively slow pace, the movie shows off some remarkably progressive views on sexuality before it became prevalent in society. The film also fits in with other blue collar British films from the British New Wave of the early Sixties. The video and audio transfer that Twilight Time have provided are both exemplary. The sole special feature of note is an excellent audio commentary that features Julie Kirgo, Nick Redman, and Lem Dobbs. This is well worth your time. I personally feel like the pace of the film may hinder replay value, so I recommend a rental prior to a purchase, but fans of the film should rest assured that this is the version to own. Sony is exceptionally gifted at restoring films, and this is another fine example of their work.