The end of World War II was meant to herald a turning point for British society and the institutionally ingrained class system which harked back to feudal times. In reality, whilst things did start to change, in many ways the rich and privileged just became better off. Young men returned from war to find themselves still playing second fiddle to the Officer class. This is the premise of Jack Clayton’s 1959 film Room at the Top.

After spending years as a prisoner of war, the ambitious Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey) leaves his quiet town to begin a new job in the vibrant West Riding industrial hub of Warnley. Whilst the job doesn’t pay much, Joe’s more interested in the opportunities. And the beautiful Susan (Heather Sears), the daughter of a factory owner (Donald Wolfit), is one he’d like to take advantage of. Frustrated by her family and suitor (Donald Houston), he soon finds himself in the arms of an older French woman (Simone Signoret) who’s fed up with her philandering husband (Allan Cuthbertson).

Based on a novel by John Braine, Room at the Top is a kitchen sink drama which illustrates that class matters. Joe soon discovers that the harder he struggles to escape, the more he becomes entangled in a spider’s web. Each triumph ends up in misery as he fights a battle he seemingly can never win. Harvey impresses, but it’s Signoret, giving one of her career best performances, who shines. She was quite rightly recognised by the Academy and the film was nominated for five further Oscars (also picking up Best Adapted Screenplay. Room at the Top is a classic British drama.

Extras:

  • Presented in High Definition and Standard Definition
  • The Visit(1959, 35 mins): Jack Gold’s quietly devastating drama portraying the everyday life of a working-class single woman
  • The West Riding in Archive Film: Bradford Town Hall Square(1896, 2 mins); Bailey’s Royal Buxton Punch and Judy Show in Halifax (1901, 3 mins); Tram Ride into Halifax (1902, 4 mins); Halifax Day by Day (1910, 2 mins); We of the West Riding (1945, 21 mins); This Town (1969, 8 mins): everyday Yorkshire life captured across a century of dramatic change
  • Original trailer
  • Feature commentary by Neil Sinyard (2009)
  • Feature commentary by Dr Josephine Botting (2019)
  • Image galleries
  • **FIRST PRESSING ONLY** Fully illustrated booklet with writing by John Oliver, Kieron McCormack, Michael Brooke and Vic Pratt and full film credits

Room at the Top is released on dual format DVD and Blu-ray by the BFI on 20 May.