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A Kind Of Loving (1962)

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A Kind Of Loving
cast: Joanne Whalley, Clive Wood, Susan Penhaligon, Neil Phillips, and John Gabriel

creator: Stan Barstow

500 minutes (12) 1982
Network DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Ian Sales
During the 1970s and 1980s, British television drama often seemed to consist of little more than people bickering in front-rooms and bedrooms. This was usually caused by the characters' marriages, or lives, falling apart. For added social commentary, reference was made to the failing UK economy or the 'winter of discontent'. A Kind Of Loving, adapted by Stan Barstow from his novels A Kind of Loving (1960), The Watchers On The Shore (1966), and The Right True End (1976), could almost be a textbook example of such drama.

It was originally filmed and broadcast by Granada in 1982, and is actually the second adaptation of Barstow's novel - the first was a 1962 film starring Alan Bates and June Ritchie. According to Wikipedia, Barstow's A Kind Of Loving has "long been used as a set text in British schools," but this is the first time I've come across it. Having said that, the series evidently has its fans, as a quick Google will show...

The story opens on Boxing Day 1957. Vic Brown (Clive Wood) is young man of 20 in the West Yorkshire town of Cressley. He lives at home and works as a junior draughtsman at a local engineering company. He meets Ingrid Rothwell (Joanne Whalley), a young typist at the company. The two start seeing each other, although they're not 'courting'. On Saturdays, Vic works in the music shop of Mr van Huyten (John Gabriel), a job he much prefers to technical drawing. When van Huyten asks him to work full-time in the shop, with the vague promise of taking it over after van Huyten retires, Vic leaves his job at the engineering company. Throughout this period, he's still seeing Ingrid, and while she loves him he's holding out for something better.

But then he gets Ingrid pregnant. So he does the responsible thing and marries her. Since he's on a low wage in van Huyten's shop and they can't afford a place of their own, the newly-married couple move in with their in-laws. Ingrid's mother despises Vic, and he hates her back. Then Ingrid falls downstairs and loses the baby. Vic leaves Ingrid, but is later persuaded to return. The couple are offered a flat, and move into it. This is not a happy marriage, and there's plenty of bickering. It gets worse when van Huyten dies but doesn't leave the shop to Vic.

An old workmate of Vic's, Albert Conroy (Neil Phillips), offers Vic a job as a draughtsman in the Essex town of Longford. Vic takes the job, returning to his wife in Cressley every other weekend. While he's down in Longford, Vic has an affair with actress Donna Pennyman (Susan Penhaligon). But she leaves him for an old lover, and disappears off to Cornwall to have his baby. Vic divorces Ingrid - he's had enough of her.

The story leaps ahead ten years to 1973. Vic is now an engineer, working for a company in London. He has just arrived back in London after a work trip to Australia when he learns that Donna has returned to the stage after a decade absence. He's having an affair with a colleague's wife, but he's still carrying a torch for Donna. So he engineers a meeting with her. They admit they both still love each other, and she confesses that her ten-year-old son is actually Vic's. The lovers are reunited and they are a family - the right true end, one would imagine.

In truth, it's hard to imagine what to make of A Kind Of Loving. Perhaps in 1982 it didn't feel so archetypal a television drama. Certainly things have changed - not just the elements of the story, but also the way drama is presented on television. The social pressure which would force a young man to 'do the responsible thing' and marry a woman he doesn't love no longer exists - the UK now has the highest number of unmarried mothers per head of capita in the world. It's tempting to consider Vic Brown a man out of his time - bizarrely filtered through two separate periods: the late 1950s and early 1960s of the setting, and the early 1980s of its filming.

But for all his more modern sensibilities, Vic is not a likeable protagonist. His ambitions and aspirations - indicated somewhat bluntly through his appreciation of classical music - may evoke sympathy, but throughout the story he remains astonishingly selfish. Even marrying Ingrid was not an entirely selfless act, as his reputation could not have survived abandoning her. And yet later, he does indeed desert her, despite the opprobrium subsequently heaped on him. At the urging of family and friends he returns to his wife... only to leave her a second time some years later. Exactly what in this behaviour constitutes 'a kind of loving' is hard to fathom.

Where the drama succeeds is in its evocation of the period. Perhaps it does reek initially of 'grim up north', but there's truth in there as the way of life depicted reminds me of my own childhood visits to grandparents in the very early 1970s. It's the furnishings, the postwar furniture and the high beds buried beneath blankets and comforters; it's the late-night suppers, and the whistle of the kettle on the hob. It's a loving portrait of the time and place Barstow has drawn - and it may well be partly autobiographical as he grew up in Ossett, just south of Wakefield.

Barstow then compares Cressley with Longford in Essex, using it to play on northern stereotypes, with one or two southerners proving woefully ignorant of the country north of Watford. There is a feel throughout A Kind Of Loving that it is playing with stereotypes - Vic's dad (Robert Keegan) is a miner, for example; van Huyten in his will sells his music shop to a competing chain, breaking his promise to Vic; Ingrid's mother could have been written specifically to be the butt of jokes by Les Dawson; there are essentially three types of set throughout the series - front-room, office, and pub; the cuckolded husband in London is mild to the point of cliché... In fact, A Kind Of Loving skirts close to cliché throughout its ten episodes. I can't decide if that's a product of when the book was written, or when this TV series was made. Or perhaps it simply is clichéd. Without having read the novels, it's impossible to tell.

Despite all that, A Kind Of Loving proved enjoyable. The cast play their parts well, the story is involving, and despite the years which pass between episodes it all hangs together entertainingly. The interior scenes do feel a bit teleplay-ish, and some of the banter is a little too self-consciously banter-ish to really convince, as is the frequent bickering. Much of the story seems to happen - as stories of this type often do - in a vacuum. There is little or no mention of the world outside the story, although mention is made of the American blockade of Cuba. It is only in the last two episodes that a reference is made to the state of the UK and its economy.

The ten episodes cover 19 years and are titled: 'Boxing Day 1957', 'January 1958', 'May 1958 - March 1959', 'April 1959', 'October - December 1962', 'December 1962', 'February - August 1963', 'August 1963', 'October 1973 part one' and 'October 1973 part two'. Each episode is 50 minutes, and they are spread across three discs. There are no DVD extras. The colours throughout look somewhat washed out, but I could not determine if that was deliberate or an artefact of the original stock.

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