Kitchen Sink Realism (or kitchen sink drama) is a term coined to describe a British cultural movement that developed during the period from 1958 to 1963 in theatre, art, novels, film and television plays, whose protagonists usually could be described as angry young men (hence Kitchen Sink Realism is also sometimes referred to by Angry Young Men, coined by John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger) dealing with the gritty realities of the working class life (hence, the dirty kitchen sink imagery). It used a style of social realism, which often depicted the domestic situations of working class Britons living in cramped rented accommodation and spending their off hours drinking in grimy pubs, to explore social issues and political controversies.

Stylistically the movement tend to lean towards a documentary realist tradition which preferred to shoot on location, particularly in the northern industrial cities, the use of black and white fast film stock (which gave a grainy, newsreel look to the images), and natural lighting. Stars were never used in these productions, however many of the actors who performed in these films found stardom: Tom Courtenay (from Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)), Albert Finney, Richard Burton, Micheal Caine.

A few other aspects that films from the Kitchen Sink Realism period share are: usually made on small budgets; they emphazised social commitment and hostility toward the ruling class establishment featuring young working-class heroes who are rebellious, angry or frustrated at their lack of opportunity, although equally desillusioned with the Welfare State; shot on actual locations as opposed to sound stages and studios; they portray the vices and virtues of the characters; they avoided the King’s English, in favor of slang and regional dialects; violent scenes are often and sex is depicted frankly; they emphasized naturalism in acting.


1) Style: Black and White, language slang, rural England…

The British New Wave filmmakers chose to shoot their films in black and white even though color was becoming the more popular choice. This came from a tradition of documentary filmmaking, and added to the sense of realism which these films wished to portray. When color began to be used in the 1930s it was felt that color was a problem for reality because it could “distract and disturb the eye”. In The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner the use of black and white adds to the sense of hopelessness and poverty. Nottingham is portrayed as a grey, industrial city, in which there is little for the youth to do but partake in petty crime and avoid the authorities. Similarly the borstal has little charm about it. It appears cold, damp and dismal. The Smiths tough living conditions are also emphasised through the use of black and white.

Language in the film is also a stylistic approach. It is meant to be crude and natural to people from these kind of areas. The use of slang and regional accents helps to portray the marginalization and guetto kind of life in rural England.

2) Character: Colin Smith

Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay), is portrayed as a determined, angry young man, who is trying to understand his place in this world. He is introduced to us in the opening sequence of the lm running down a country lane and through the use of voice over he tells us what it means to run.

“Running has always been in our family, especially running from the police. Its hard to understand, all I know is you’ve got to run. Run without knowing why, through fields and woods, and the winning post is no end, even though barmy crowds might be cheering themselves daft. That’s what the loneliness of the long distance runner feels like”.

We are already aware that Colin is a very reflective youth, and in the next scene, as he is being transported to the borstal, we can tell by the expression on his face that he is a very singular character as he does not partake in the conversation with the other inmates even when he is provoked by one of the boys. Within the borstal he makes his attitude to the establishment very clear when he responds to Stacey’s advice about never forgetting who holds the whip in the borstal.

After the brawl with Stacey, some of the other inmates accuse Colin of being the Governor’s favourite, to which he responds, “I’m nobody’s favourite”. They cannot understand why he does not escape now that he is allowed to train on his own outside the borstal gates. While time passes in the borstal, Colin discovers that the only way to escape from this dismal environment is by running, but running on his own terms, not to advance the ambitions of the Governor.

He refuses to become the model prisoner or the model consumer. At home he is sickened by his mother’s desire to ll the home with symbols of a uence, in particular the television, which is the cause of arguments and unhappiness. In an act of loyalty to his dead father he burns the ten pound note his mother gave him from the insurance money.

When Colin throws the race at the end of the lm, this is his ultimate act of de ance and also the greatest sign of his willpower and determination. It would have been so easy to have won the race and in turn basked in the praise of the Governor, and reduced his time in the borstal. But instead, for the sake of his principles, he chose to lose and faced the consequences.

3) Life around the characters

A bruising, uncomfortable home life, petty crime, redemption o ered in the form of a love that doesn’t work out. Sillitoe’s story lent itself perfectly to the Tony’s aim at the “Kitchen Sink Realism”: an angry young man seeking a self-indulgent, almost masochistic, sort of vengeance for the various injustices put upon him by the Borstal and society. The core problems lie in the heavily engrained class system that Britain was built upon, and the social and economic inequalities that this inevitably leads to.

Much of the lm revolves around the idea of freedom, and how one can possibly be “free” in a society that constantly cannibalizes each other for their capitalist ends. For example, Colin’s mother uses the insurance money from the accidental death of his father to go on a four month shopping spree. Also, the Borstal’s governor uses Colin to win a race against a respected school, while Colin himself even thinks about playing it straight and conforming properly to the Borstal, just so he can be released early. There are a few liberating moments in the lm when this seems possible, notably when Colin and his lover go to the beach for an isolated weekend where there is plenty of room to run around. For the most part, though, all one can do is run. Run away from various problems, for very long distances over an extended period of time. It is while Smith is running that he has the opportunity to think clearly ande escape the emotions of his constrained life.


Author: Bea Cabrera

Freelance Filmmaker with a passion for big cities, snowboard, cinema and a weakness for the smell of freshly ground coffee. Engineer & Graphic Designer in a previous life, loving and living both: art and technology.  

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