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UK 1962
Directed by
Bryan Forbes
126 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The L-Shaped Room

Although French-born actress Leslie Caron, who came to screen fame in the 1958 Lerner and Loewe musical Gigi, is an unlikely choice to play the lead in this British realist classic she gives a winning performance as a young pregnant and unmarried French woman, who, having fled the disapproval of her family takes a room in a seedy Notting Hill boarding house as she tries to come to terms with her situation.

Illegitimate pregnancy does not carry the a shadow of the stigma today that it did when this film was released however there is still enough here to command attention with Ms Caron lending a graceful and sensitive yet determined presence to the otherwise typically drab and squalid setting in which her character, Jane Fosset,  finds herself.  Adapted by the director from a novel by Lynne Reid Banks the heart of the story is of Jane’s struggle to decide what how to respond to her pregnancy which most people she encounters encourage her to terminate.  She falls for an eager young would-be writer, Toby (Tom Bell), and decides to keep the child although when he finds out about her condition he cannot reconcile himself to it.

As always with realist film the setting for the main drama and its secondary characters are important parts of the experience and are here well integrated into Jane’s story.  Thus we get the tatty, run-down lodging house with its peeling walls, cheap knick-knacks, and bed bugs as well as its snobby landlady (Avis Bunnage), a faded vaudeville actress (Cicely Courtneidge) and sometime lesbian living with her cat on the ground floor, a “working  girl” (Patricia Phoenix) in the basement and, in one of the more dated and less convincing aspects, a good-hearted West Indian jazz musician (Brock Peters) in the room next to Jane’s as well as Emlyn Williams as an unctuous abortionist.

 Whilst one feels that the Toby character and his relationship would have been better handled in the novel, it here being rather schematic once he finds out about Janet's pregnancy, The L-Shaped Room is still a solid film and deservedly one of the classics of the period and style.

FYI: Tony Richardson had tackled pre-marital pregnancy the previous year with another realist classic of the period, A Taste Of Honey.




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