Woodfall: A Revolution in British Cinema

This month (April 2018) the BFI is running a retrospective on Woodfall Films, the company which in the late 1950s and 1960s pioneered a new sort of cinema in Britain. This was, of course, also the time of Truffaut, Godard and the New Wave in France, but it is a disservice to both movements to yoke them too closely together. Each was struggling with social, economic and aesthetic challenges rooted in its own national circumstances.

For Woodfall, class was always central, not just in its early essays featuring working class protagonists (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in 1960, A Taste of Honey in 1961, and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in 1962), but also in the later costume dramas (Tom Jones in 1963 and The Charge of the Light Brigade in 1968). It was always committed to the virtues of location- rather than studio-based shooting. And it usually found a way to celebrate joy in life, while acknowledging its brevity.

The name most closely associated with the Woodfall project was the director Tony Richardson. He died in 1991, and the History Project never interviewed him. Nevertheless, for anyone interested in this pivotal moment in British cinema, the History Project collection is a rich resource. There are several interviews which touch upon or refer to individual films or crew members, but perhaps the most relevant are with three of Richardson's cinematographers, and one of his editors.

Ossie Morris (https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/oswald-ossie-morris), interviewed in 1987, was cinematographer on two Woodfall films, Look Back in Anger (1958) and The Entertainer (1960). He went on to win BAFTAs for The Pumpkin Eaters, The Hill and The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, and an Oscar for Fiddler on the Roof.

The interview with Walter Lassally (https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/walter-lassally) was conducted in 1988. Walter was cinematographer on A Taste of Honey, The Loneliness …, and Tom Jones. The year after he made Tom Jones, Walter won an Oscar for his cinematography on Zorba the Greek.

David Watkin (https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/david-watkin) was cinematographer on Mademoiselle and The Charge of the Light Brigade. He is probably best known for photographing Out of Africa, for which he won both a BAFTA and an Oscar.

And finally we have a video interview with Kevin Brownlow (https://historyproject.org.uk/interview/kevin-brownlow) who edited The Charge of the Light Brigade. Kevin has many other claims to fame, including his championing of silent cinema, and his work in film preservation and restoration. His own counter-factual drama It Happened Here (1965), a remorselessly unflattering portrayal of Britain under Nazi occupation, was bank-rolled by Tony Richardson in one of his many acts of generosity to struggling film-makers.