The L-Shaped Room
The L-Shaped Room – 1962 | 126 mins | Drama | Colour
Leslie Caron may be best known for playing the love interest in An American in Paris, Father Goose, and Gigi, but those weren’t the films that earned her two Best Actress Academy Award nominations. They came ten years apart, in the 1953 children’s film Lili, and in the 1962 character study The L-Shaped Room.
In the latter film, a British production directed by Bryan Forbes, Caron plays a pregnant woman who is unsure of her future. Jane is from a well-to-do French family, but immigrates to England to find her own way separate from her lover and family. She soon discovers poverty, but also makes friends in the low-rent apartment building where she stays. First among these is Toby (Tom Bell), an attentive, impassioned but failed writer, and helpful, gentle Johnny (Brock Peters, fresh from playing the defendant in To Kill a Mockingbird). There’s also a middle-aged lesbian (Cicely Courtneidge).
Then as now, there is little glory in unwed pregnancy. Everyone assumes that Jane is looking for a then-illegal abortion. Toby is the last character to be aware of her predicament, which Jane keeps secret from him out of fear of losing his romantic interest. Jane herself is uncertain of what to do about her pregnancy and her life, but she knows one thing. She won’t do anything just because somebody wants her to do it, and her refusal to commit to anyone or anything leads to much suffering. The major characters are all-sympathetic to Jane, but are frustrated by her indecisionís. Considered almost shocking at the time of release, The L-Shaped Room actually is much more conservative than the black comedies.
The film itself is sometimes slow, and the dialogue, especially from Courtneidge, can be difficult to follow. The sets are drab, which is realistic but not lending itself to pleasing cinematography. Caron is a fine actress, but her character’s restless nature doesn’t give her enough to work with. In the end, The L-Shaped Room is well intentioned but fails to execute.
Review© Brian Koller.
The British New Wave of cinema was a time for displaying stark realism and confronting repressed truths, and The L-Shaped Room contains more than its share of both. Despite its bleak setting, however, humour and warmth manage to seep through, in that acerbic wit that can only come from despair.
The L-Shaped Room follows a young French girl, Jane (Leslie Caron), who arrives alone at a boarding house in Fulham, London. Beautiful and withdrawn, she encounters the residents of her house through the meandering first act of the film, each a social outsider in their own way, beneath a thin veneer of Britishness that allows them to pass in a crowd. It seems a shame to make a laundry list of the house’s residents, particularly as one of the filmís pleasures lies in discovering each character as Jane comes to know them. Rather than presenting us with simple cartoons, we meet real people who we come to care for, gradually discovering traits that could later be tossed into easy baskets: lesbian, struggling writer, prostitute, jazz musician.
It is a credit to both the writing and the acting that the viewer becomes immersed in the characters long before the plot becomes visible. Jane is pregnant, we learn, and has no desire to marry the father. On her first visit to a doctor, she wants to find out if she really is pregnant, and consider her options, but the doctor’s facile assumption that she must want either marriage or an abortion so insults her that she determines to have the child.
The film follows Jane as she stumbles through life and love while struggling with her own choice. Themes of abortion, sexuality, race and class are so charged and difficult that filmmakers today rarely tread on them, let alone confront all of them in a single film, yet they are treated here with a frank charm. Cicely Coutneidge as Mavis, the lovely, matronly lesbian with her cat, kindly proffering a bottle of pills to end Jane’s pregnancy, only wanting to help, tears come just thinking of her, one canít help but fall in love.
The L-Shaped Room is filled with scenes of humour, pathos, and affection, often all at once, and in the greyest of settings. Itís no accident that The Smiths chose to open their album, The Queen Is Dead, with a scene from this film, Christmas time at the house with Mavis leading everyone through an off-key chorus of “Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty.”
The L-Shaped Room may have been a product of its place and time, but it speaks to everyone who has stood outside for one reason or another. Tom Bell, as Toby, observes of couples in a dance hall; “the English always take their pleasures so sadly.” Here, what seems sad on the surface becomes such a pleasure to take.
Review© Jayson Elliot – Permission Magazine.
Bryan Forbes: Director
Douglas Slocombe: Cinematography
Beatrice Dawson: Costume Design
Anthony Harvey: Editing
Harry Frampton: Make-up Dept
John Barry: Original Music
James Woolf: Producer
Richard Attenborough: Producer
Ray Simm: Production Design
Lynne Reid Banks: Script
Bryan Forbes: Script