British New Wave

What it is…

A film movement in Britain during the 1950s and the 1960s that dealt usually, but not exclusively, with contemporary social issues. Although the films associated with the movement spanned a range of genres and styles, the most famous entries employ a grim, rough-hewn form of realism, which was known as Kitchen Sink Realism. It had a presence in other art forms in Britain as well.

Who its pioneers were...

British New Wave was a direct extension of the Free Cinema doctrine which, in turn, had its roots in Neorealism and which advocated making films that were non-propagandistic yet had a highly opinionated, critical outlook towards British society. At the forefront of British New Wave are filmmakers such as Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz and Ken Loach.

How it is characterised…


Kitchen Sink Realism positioned itself against the dominant middle-class cinema. It attempted to portray the lives of working class people living in the north of England without embellishment. These films dealt with the day-to-day activities of the people and the economic and social hardships they face. Topics such as domestic violence, housing problems and juvenile delinquency were commonplace.


Films classified under this movement have a documentary quality to them. They were generally made in 16mm, in black and white and a traditional aspect ratio, as opposed to the widescreen prestige pictures that directors such as David Lean were making at that time. Movies were shot on location, with non-professionals or real people playing the parts, often with hand-held cameras. The sound was generally dubbed and the musical score had a heavy local flavour to it.

Why it is important...

Few national cinemas have been as deeply associated (and parodied) with a single style as British cinema has been with Kitchen Sink Realism. British cinema has consistently preoccupied itself with class divisions and the films of British New Wave have proved to be a barometer for such films still wanting to engage with working-class realities.

Where to find it...

Tony Richardson's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) centres on Colin, a young man who is jailed for robbery. In prison, he reveals himself as an ace marathon runner and is hand-picked by the Governor to represent the prison in a local tournament. Starkly allegorical, this rebellious, angry film is a biting indictment of persistent class relations and a fierce appeal to defy authority and refuse taking up positions allocated by the powers that be.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 9:07:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chen-columns/british-new-wave/article2931912.ece

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