Despite the high-powered cast, whatever vitality Judi Dench’s Renaissance Theater production of the classic kitchen sink drama delivered onstage doesn't translate to the screen.
In a dreary English walk-up flat, ambitious, working-class university graduate Jimmy Porter (Kenneth Branagh) seethes about his limited opportunities. Having risen out of the working class to graduate university, Jimmy feels strangled by the British social caste system that relegates him to running a candy shop with his partner, Cliff (Gerard Horan). That said, Jimmy has married above his station; his sexual magnetism attracted Alison (Emma Thompson), and she's now trapped in a verbally abusive relationship with an unhappy lout. Jimmy baits her constantly, sniping about her family's bloodlessness and accusing her of snobbery towards his friends and relatives. A visit from Alison’s friend, Helena Charles (Siobhan Redmond), emboldens Alison to speak her mind; she starts by attending Sunday mass despite his virulent hostility to the church. What she still can't bring herself to do is reveal that she's pregnant. Helena, dismayed to find her friend so browbeaten, asks Alison’s father (Edward Jewesbury) to come and rescue Alison from her dead-end existence. Alison decides on her own to take a break from her marriage, and while she's away Helena succumbs to Jimmy's coarse appeal and begins an affair. The difference between Alison and Helena, though, is that Helena is more than Jimmy's match, and it doesn't take her long to tire of his bullying. When Alison returns home, reinvigorated by a spell of peace and quiet, she finds her home transformed into someone else's love nest: Will she have the strength to stand up to Jimmy?
It's impossible to relive the impact John Osborne's play Look Back in Anger had on staid British theatre-goers in the fifties, and it's hard to tell whether the trouble with this film lies in the particular production or the fact that this once-revolutionary play now seems labored and shrill.
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