Some people make sacrifices for the ones they love. Others do it for the ones who they don’t love. Such is the case of Vic Brown (Alan Bates), who marries Ingrid Rothwell (June Ritchie, in her debut role) because he felt that this was “the honourable thing to do”. Ingrid was pregnant with Vic’s child following a short dalliance, but the charming young man did not harbour any profound sentiments for her, except perhaps for pity and compassion.
A Kind of Loving is set in a permanently wintry, colourless and heavily polluted town in the north of England in the 1960s, complete with grey skies, crammed housing, plus a steamy rail network conspicuous in its noisiness. Their existence is terribly ordinary, their job and hobbies extremely mundane. Vic is a draftsman and Ingrid is a typist working for the same company. Vic is a football fan, and he enjoys his time at the pub, while Ingrid is obsessed coats, television and brass bands. They are the essence of working-class Britain in the 1960s, as with most of the kitchen sink dramas.
The difference is that this British new wave classic is a very subtle and yet profound investigation of the values of people living at that time. The performances are superb, the bleak photography is oddly fascinating, and the topics examined very pertinent and universal. The black and white movie saw both commercial and a critical acclaim, becoming of the biggest box office hits of the time and taking the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1962.
The irresistibly handsome Alan Bates delivers a warm and apparently caring Vic, with a genuine – if a little trite – smile. June does the vaguely shy and needy Ingrid, who still evokes some sympathy from the audiences despite her futile obsessions. She epitomises a fast-transforming Britain, that quickly embraced consumerist values as very suitable assets for the baby-boom generation.
The love that Vic grudgingly offers Ingrid is very awkward and uncomfortable to watch. The “I love you” hardly audible, the kissing is hackneyed, the lovemaking feels almost altruistic. He is completely unfazed by her nudity. Neither one is happy and enjoying it, and the unexpected pregnancy remains their biggest bond. To make things worse, they are poor and live with Ingrid’s mother, a domineering and manipulative old woman who makes no effort to conceal her dislike for Vic. At one point she describes her in-law: “you talk filth, you smell filth, you are the filth, you filthy pig”.
Disaster then strikes, as Ingrid falls down the stairs and has a miscarriage. She is inconsolable. Yet Vic is strangely stoic and even happy, telling the doctor in hospital: “Don’t worry about the kid, i couldn’t get used to the idea of being a father anyway”. Perhaps he wasn’t so caring and altruistic after all. He then hits the bottle and his chauvinistic side is immediately revealed.
The vain attempt to conform to the tacit obtuse social rules and thereby to concoct a fragile relationship is a central theme of A Kind of Loving. In the end of the day, marriage has little to do with love, and people have to make do with “a kind of loving” instead.
Having a baby is one of these social rules, and it still remains so today. Just last month conservative MP Andrea Leadsom infamously questioned Theresa May’s ability to run the country because of her biological inability to conceive a child (the now PM of Britain is sterile). It is therefore understandable why Ingrid panicked when she lost a child, in an even more conservative Britain from more than 50 years ago.
A Kind of Loving has now been fully restored. Its new version premiered last month in Manchester and Bristol, during Cinema Rediscovered. It has now been made available on DVD and, for the first time, on Blu-ray – just click here for more information.
You can watch the original film trailer below: