Movie movements that defined cinema: British New Wave

Image for Movie movements that defined cinema: British New Wave

Key filmmakers: Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, Jack Clayton, John Schlesinger, Lindsay Anderson

Key dates: 1958-1963

Sandwiched somewhere between the austerity '50s and the swinging '60s came the literary hellraisers known as the Angry Young Men. The work of playwrights and authors like John Osborne and Alan Sillitoe was leapt upon by a swathe of fiery filmmakers who raised the temperatures of moviegoers and censors alike with unflattering depictions of class division and urban life. This cruel Britannia, bomb-damaged and drained, was the heartland of a new wave that took Free Cinema’s baton and ran with it… well, strode to the nearest pub with it, moodily puffing on a fag.

At the vanguard were Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson, three stalwarts of Free Cinema, spearheading a style of filmmaking that was light on frills (don’t come here for nouvelle vague frippery or jump cuts) but heavy on dramatic fireworks. It was a time when men were men, and usually pretty grumpy with it. They were surly rebels like Arthur Seaton (Saturday Night And Sunday Morning, pictured above), Jimmy Porter (Look Back In Anger), Colin Smith (The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner), gifted outsiders like Frank Machin (This Sporting Life) and dreamers, of whom Billy Fisher (Billy Liar), was the dreamiest – Yorkshire’s answer to Walter Mitty. In a short burst, this unofficial movement delivered a fistful of great dramas. A large proportion are well-established Brit classics; others, like The L-Shaped Room (1963), are well worth searching out.

What to watch: Room At The Top (1959), Saturday Night And Sunday Morning (1960) (pictured top), A Taste Of Honey (1961), The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner (1962), Billy Liar (1963), This Sporting Life (1963), Darling (1965)

What did it influence? Ken Loach’s Kes (1969) was arguably the last masterpiece of the Brit New Wave. Its influence can be felt strong in Shane Meadows' work, while Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s debut film Cemetery Junction was an homage to Saturday Night And Sunday Morning.

Trivia: The term ‘kitchen-sink realism’ had its genesis in British artist John Bratby’s portrait of a humble sink.

What to say: “Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not. (Arthur Seaton, Saturday Night And Sunday Morning)

What not to say: “I get that he was lonely, I just don’t understand why he didn’t join a running club.”

Head to Empire's full list of essential movie movements