Legendary director John Schlesinger’s (“Billy Liar,” “Darling,” “Marathon Man,” “Midnight Cowboy”) debut feature,”A Kind of Loving” (1962) is a clear-eyed and sympathetic view of a smart but immature young man, Vic Brown (Alan Bates, spot-on in his first starring role). He’s vaguely ambitious, and curious about the world, and wants more than his job as a factory draughtsman and his provincial northern town offer.
Although made contemporaneously and sharing the realism of gritty kitchen-sink dramas, “A Kind of Loving” departs from the British New Wave. It doesn’t foreground a political situation and Vic, in his coat and tie, is not an angry young man. He doesn’t chafe at still living at home, loves his family and hangs out with his mates as they ineptly pursue young women. At the time of its release, a critic called the film “a remarkable film about unremarkable people.”
After the joyous wedding of “our Christine” (the Brown family’s adored oldest child), Vic (Bates is dazzlingly blue-eyed, even in Denys Coop’s evocative b&w) spots lovely (and typically English peaches and cream) Ingrid Rothwell (June Ritchie) in the crowd gathered to watch the newlyweds leave the church. Noticing her again, working at the factory, he manages to join her on her commute home. To his surprise, she accepts his invitation to meet him at the movies.
Their first date, fueled by anticipation and fantasy, goes well. But it’s followed by physical and emotional fumbling. As Vic starts to withdraw, Ingrid, 19, and a product of her time, is desperate to reel him back in. She drops that her mother is away and asks him to visit. Too embarrassed to ask the female clerk at the pharmacy for condoms, Vic has to convince a modest and reluctant Ingrid to have sex.
After the strained encounter, Vic dumps Ingrid. But, three weeks later, when she tells him she’s “in trouble,” he’s honorable and a hasty civil wedding takes place. Their honeymoon has moments of happiness but when they return to live with her bitter, endlessly meddling mother (Thora Hird, horrifyingly great), the gulf separating the couple widens.
Ingrid has a miscarriage and Mrs. Rothwell doesn’t summon her son-in-law from work to the hospital. Months pass and running into a ex-colleague from work, Vic goes on a pub crawl. When he returns home stumbling drunk, Ingrid retreats to her mother’s room. Vic vomits in the living room, as the older woman ferociously berates him, “You’re a filthy, disgusting pig!” He throw his things into a suitcase and bolts.
Vic discusses the difficulties in his marriage (and takes some responsibility for them) with Christine and his parents but no one supports his decision to separate from Ingrid. His father advises that Vic and Ingrid find their own place.
The couple’s shaky reconciliation is threatened as Ingrid rejects shabby flats but is bolstered as they visit the park where their romance began. Schlesinger characterized his film as “about human difficulties and the illusions of love. It is a film about compromise, which is what so many of my films are about.”*
“A Kind of Loving,” in a new restoration, will open on Friday, April 7 at Film Forum for a one-week run
*Quote is included in “From the Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger” by William J. Mann.