Joe Lampton arrives in the thriving Yorkshire town of Warnley and sets out to elevate his social status by seducing wealthy industrialist's daughter Susan Brown. However, by the time of his shotgun wedding, he has fallen for Alice Aisgill, an unhappily married Frenchwoman, who is 10 years his senior and ruinously in love with him.
Although John Osborne's Look Back in Anger had already opened at the Royal Court Theatre, it was Jack Clayton's adaptation of John Braine's scathing portrait of northern working-class life that turned social realism into headline news. It was one thing for continental films to tackle such taboo topics as pre-marital sex and adultery. But no British film had previously discussed such adult situations in so caustic a vernacular, let alone depicted them with such casual frankness. For viewers reared on Ian Carmichael and Norman Wisdom, Room at the Top was a devastating discovery, made all the more thrillingly immediate by the fact that so much of the action related to their own everyday experience.
There had been cads in British movies before. But James Mason's sins had been committed in costume in Gainsborough period romps that consciously romanticised his roguery. Laurence Harvey, however, wore an ordinary suit and worked in the borough treasurer's department. Moreover, he was a former RAF POW. Yet, he was prepared to use his looks and charm to seduce his way to affluence and acceptability. But while Joe Lampton was cynical and exploitative, he wasn't an archetypal `angry young man'. He was proud of his roots: he just recognised their inconvenience to his aspiration. Moreover, despite Jack Clayton and Freddie Francis's evocative use of their Yorkshire locations, this wasn't exactly a `kitchen sink' drama, either, as neither Heather Sears's naive daddy's girl nor Simone Signoret's coolly sensual outsider skivvied away in the inner-city backstreets. However, Neil Paterson's acrid screenplay still scandalised the British Establishment and so appalled the Breen Office that it was denied a release certificate. Indeed, this did as much for the film's international reputation as its raft of awards, which eventually included a Best Actress Oscar for Signoret. Despite being on screen for a comparatively short time, she walks away with the picture and her sophisticated passion contrasts sharply with Harvey's poorly accented and occasionally awkward display of narcissistic chauvinism.
Although time doesn't flatter the film much, it remains engaging and insightful.