Angry Young Men and British New Wave Films FAQ


 1)        What was the angry young men movement?

"Angry Young Men" was a journalistic phrase coined in the mid-50s to describe a diverse group of emergent novelists and dramatists. Frequently mentioned names are John Osborne, Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson, Shelagh Delany, Arnold Wesker, Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, Alan Sillitoe, David Storey, Stan Barstow, John Braine, John Wain and Colin Wilson. Apart from the dramatists associated with the Royal Court Theatre (Osborne, Anderson, Richardson, Delany and Wesker), there was no real "movement" in the same sense as the beat writers and poets in America although many of the novelists had lower middle-class/working-class grammar school/university backgrounds, which was reflected in their work.

2)        How long did it last?

1953 (Hurry On Down: novel, John Wain) - 1960 (This Sporting Life: novel, David Storey & A Kind Of Loving: novel, Stan Barstow.)

3)        What were the outcomes of this movement?

The key works of the artists lumped together as "Angry Young Men" are:

Hurry On Down John Wain Novel 1953  
Lucky Jim Kingsley Amis  Novel 1954 Film 1957
The Outsider   Colin Wilson Philosophical treatise 1956  
Look Back In Anger John Osborne  Play   1956 Film 1959
The Entertainer  John Osborne Play   1957 Film 1960
Room At The Top John Braine Novel 1957 Film 1959
Saturday Night And Sunday Morning Alan Sillitoe  Novel 1958 Film 1960
A Taste of Honey Shelagh Delany Play   1959 Film 1961
The Kitchen   Arnold Wesker Play   1959 Film 1961
Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner Alan Sillitoe  Short Story 1959 Film 1962
A Kind Of Loving Stan Barstow   Novel 1960  Film 1962
This Sporting Life    David Storey Novel 1960 Film 1963


"But in the meantime, these young and angry operators encapsulate not so much an era as a couple of fleeting years: born in 1954, washed up by 1957; a movement that had no act to get together, which broke bottles and hearts indiscriminately; which raved and sold out and wallowed in absurdity; as lasting as a headline in the Mail, as important as a leader in the Express, an inchoate mix of tops and flops. And yet ... at the going down of Chateau Margaux, we do remember them." Peter Preston 2002.The Angry Young Men

4)        What films were made during this era?

        Room At The Top 1959 Dir. Jack Clayton
       Look Back In Anger 1959 Dir. Tony Richardson
       Saturday Night And Sunday Morning 1960 Dir. Karel Reisz 
       The Entertainer* 1960 Dir. Tony Richardson
       The Kitchen 1961 Dir. James Hill
       A Taste Of Honey* 1961 Dir. Tony Richardson
      A Kind Of Loving   1962 Dir. John Schlesinger
      The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner* 1962 Dir. Tony Richardson
      This Sporting Life 1963 Dir. Lindsay Anderson
      Billy Liar 1963 Dir. John Schlesinger
       * Woodfall films.

Speaking in 1959, Tony Richardson told Films and Filming "It is absolutely vital to get into British films the same sort of impact and life that what you can loosely call the Angry Young Man cult had in the theatre and literary worlds." Richardson, along with John Osborne and Harry Salzman, created the independent film company Woodfall in 1959 determined to produce new types of film drawing on the ideas of Free Cinema. The social realism of the new wave films owed much to the Free Cinema school of documentary film making which was itself influenced by the work of Humphrey Jennings. Key Free Cinema films are Lindsay Anderson's O, Dreamland (1953), Every Day Except Christmas (1957) and Tony Richardson's Momma Don't Allow (1955). However, the new wave filmmakers were also following in the time-honoured tradition of British Cinema by bringing to the screen best selling novels and highly successful plays - a trend that began with Room At The Top (1959). The success of social realism in TV drama, such as Armchair Theatre, was also a key factor in making such productions commercially viable.


The key actors associated with the new wave films are: Tom Courtenay, Albert Finney, Alan Bates, Richard Harris, Rachel Roberts and Rita Tushingham.

Key factors in new wave films:  

                                      Independent film companies eg Woodfall.


                                      Took advantage of more liberal censorship


                                      Adaptations of successful "angry young man" plays/novels


                                      Protagonist often a discontented working class male seeking 



                                      Shift away from the collectivist social realism films of the 40s


                                      The workplace is absent or not important


                                      Independent females tend to get "punished"

5)        Did the angry young men influence the films produced today?

Although definable British "social realism" films effectively disappeared from the big screen in the mid 60s, the genre moved to TV in the Play For Today and Wednesday Play slots with plays like Cathy Come Home (1967) and was also reflected in popular comedy series such as Steptoe and Son, Till Death Us Do Part and The Likely Lads. With more rating conscious and less adventurous TV programming in the 80s and 90s, filmmakers such as Ken Loach and Mike Leigh returned to the big screen with such recent examples of the genre as Sweet Sixteen (2002), All Or Nothing (2002) and Vera Drake (2004). Other recent examples are Danny Boyle's Trainspotting (1996), Mark Herman's Brassed Off (1996), Peter Cattaner's The Full Monty (1997), Tim Roth's The War Zone (1997) and Gary Oldman's Nil By Mouth. (1997).

Contempory actors whose styles are in the social realism tradition include Ray Winstone, Timothy Spall, Robert Carlyle and Kathy Burke.

6)        How did the New Wave Cinema effect Britain, France and America?

Most of the new wave films were commercially successful in Britain and America but they didn't influence American or French filmmakers. The French contemporary equivalent, the nouvelle vogue of Truffaut,  Godard and others, was more concerned with innovative narrative and cinematic techniques than realism. The last films of the cycle, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and Billy Liar, actually borrowed some stylistic trappings of the French school. Woodfall's next film was the successful historical romp Tom Jones (1963) paving the way for other such historical epics such as The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) whose failure led to a lack of American investment in the UK film industry. Generally the new wave films encouraged 60s British filmmakers to be more ambitious and this is reflected in the work of Richard Lester, Joseph Losey, John Boorman and others.

Key references:


    Aldgate A. & Richards, J. Best of British. I.B.Tauris. 1999.


    John Hill. Sex Class And Realism: British Cinema 1956-1963. British Film Institute. 1986  


    New Wave, Old Problem


    Free Cinema and Angry Young Men

              British Cinema 1950-1960