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DVD Review

DVD cover

The L-Shaped Room (1962)
(2017 4K Restoration)


Starring: Leslie Caron, Tom Bell and Brock Peters
Distributor: StudioCanal
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 27 November 2017

A young single French woman arrives in Notting Hill looking for a room to rent. She rents an L shaped room in a run-down boarding-house, meeting the other residents. Soon she starts a romance with Toby, but things change when he discovers that she is pregnant...

The L-shapes Room (B&W. 1962. 2 hr, 54 sec) is a drama, directed by Bryan Forbes (Whistle Down the Wind (1961), The Stepford Wives (1975)) form an original novel by Lynne Reid Banks. Leslie Caron won best actress twice, gaining a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. She was also nominated for an Oscar.

The film is considered to be part of the Kitchen sink realism school of British Drama, which included films such as The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), Billy Liar (1963) and Up the Junction (1968) which mostly depicted the working class stories placed in realistic social settings.

For its time the characters and themes were quite hard hitting including an unwed mother who is content not to need the protection of a man; a gay black musician neighbour; and prostitution. It's worth looking out for a young Pat Phoenix as Sonia, who would go on to be a staple and much loved character in Coronation Street.

The story is set and was filmed in Notting Hill, which at the time was a post war area of deprivation. Jane Fosset (Leslie Caron) rents the attic room which, like the rest of the house is shabby, the wallpaper and paint is peeling, and she discovers that her bed is full of cockroaches. Caron, in the extras, recounts that they didn’t have to dress the rooms as they looked that bad, also no extras were required in the outdoor scenes as the director just shot the people who lived in the area.

The house contains four main characters. Jane's landlady, Doris (Avis Bunnage) is a dragon of a woman. The film intimates that she may well be running a house of ill repute from her basement flat. On the ground floor is an aging, lesbian thespian, who has seen better days. Mavis (Cicely Courtneidge) lives alone with her cat surrounded by crumbling mementoes of past glories.

Jane is quickly befriended by Johnny (Brock Peters) her musician neighbour and Toby (Tom Bell) who is a struggling, failed writer. The romance that Jane and Toby start goes well at first, but soon she is confronted by a jealous Johnny who complains that he can hear everything her and Toby are doing in her room. Her problems are furthered when Toby discovers her pregnancy. Although portraying himself as a free thinker, Toby quickly revert to a stereotypical response, even accusing her of becoming involved with him to give her child a name.

All through her travails Jane must contend with every person having an opinion about her baby, without asking if Jane wants to have her child. She has a particularly unpleasant run in with a doctor who presuming she wants an abortion moves swiftly on to tell her what his fee was.

The DVD come with three extras. Interview with Leslie Caron (18 min, 41 sec) has Caron discuss the making of the film. Interview with Lynne Reid Banks (11 min, 56 sec) wherein the author discusses how she was initially pleased at the success of the novel only to be disappointed with the changes that had been made in the film script. She didn’t much mind that the central character had been changed from an English actress to a French au-pair, but thought that the changes to the end of the story were unforgivable, thankfully she changed her mind over time.

Lastly, The L-Shaped Room and the British New Wave (20 min, 25 sec) with John Hill, Professor of Media, Royal Holloway, University of London, who places the film in its cultural and historical context. The film has had an extensive 4K restoration.

This a very downbeat movie, full of close up and confined places, overall the movie has a claustrophobic feel which perfectly mirrors Jane's feelings of being trapped by the expectations of others. That she finally finds some peace from her own inner strength is a testament to both the writing and Caron’s portrayal.


Charles Packer

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