Modern romance

The Bloomsbury group lived in squares and loved in triangles. British cinema – particularly the kind about people far less fancy than Virginia Woolf – has produced far more complex geometries, and more architectural variety, too. Here are the landmarks in the city: Pool of London, in which Earl Cameron’s merchant seaman spends his shore leave in the tender company of a theatre box office assistant, and gives us one of British cinema’s earliest inter-racial romances. Woman in a Dressing Gown, in which Anthony Quayle and Yvonne Mitchell live in a municipal tower block – where their marriage collapses amid a chaos of un-ironed clothes and burned dinners, with the Third Programme blaring from the radio. (If you think kitchen sink drama began with Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, think again.) Billy Liar, in which Tom Courtenay plays a faint-hearted fantasist who is unable to seize the romantic opportunities offered to him. (You will marvel at the decision he makes in the closing seconds of the film.)

The passage of time and the accretion of scholarship around these films may make us forget that they were often sold to their audiences with the unsubtle promise of sex. A Kind of Loving was marketed on its X certificate, but it’s actually a carefully-observed social drama in which Alan Bates and June Ritchie play a young couple dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. Fans of Ken Loach watching his first feature, Poor Cow, will know instantly that this is the work of the same man who made Kes and Raining Stones. They may be surprised to see poster features an image of Carol White in stockings and suspenders, beneath a thinks bubble that says: “A girl’s got to earn a living … and a loving.”

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