As the New Wave emerged in late 1950’s France, Britain too, was experiencing its own cultural movement with the rise of the “kitchen sink” drama. Kitchen sink dramas presented gritty, realistic stories of domestic or socioeconomic situations involving working class families or individuals struggling to get ahead in postwar England. Released in 1959, Room at the Top was one of the first–and the best–of these films. The directorial debut of Jack Clayton, it scored six Oscar nominations winning Best Actress for Simone Signoret and Best Adapted Screenplay for Neil Paterson.

Having survived his dismal hometown and time in a German POW camp, Joe Lampton (Harvey), arrives in Yorkshire determined to make his way to the top. Armed with ambition to burn, on his first day in town, he points high offscreen to the posh homes overlooking his simple flat and defiantly states he wants it all. Joe starts off with a lowly job in the borough treasurer’s office but has his eyes on much more, including the off-limits Susan (Heather Sears) the pretty, young Susan Brown (Heather Sears) the daughter of the most powerful man in town. Susan’s current beau, Jack Wales (John Westbrook) has the distinction of had escaped a POW camp and delights in humiliating Joe’s lower military rank and his humble beginnings. While Joe is wooing Susan, he begins an at-first casual, then serious affair with Alice (Simone Signoret), an older French woman in an unhappy marriage. Though Joe’s relationship goes against his desire for the good life, the two fall in love. Both Alice’s husband and Susan’s parents eventually learn what’s going on and set out to ruin Joe’s relationships and the social standing he’s worked so hard to cultivate.

Room at the Top was marketed for “mature audiences only,” It’s frankness about British society was shocking at the time. Nonetheless, the film is an engaging, well-written, well-acted drama that is as much a character study as it is a statement about the British class system.

 Presented in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Kino Lorber’s 1080p transfer is solid. Sourced from a 2K restoration, the black and white image appears clean throughout. Grain textures are supported well, resulting in an image that has a nice sense of depth and offers a film-like appearance.

The DTS-HD Master Audio offers clear, clean and concise dialogue throughout. The dreary score by Mario Nascimbene comes through convincingly. There are no audio distortions to mention.

English subtitles are included.

The following extras are available:

  • Audio Commentary with Film Historian Kat Ellinger: In this extensive commentary, Ellinger discusses how the film initiated funding for many of the “kitchen sink” dramas that would come out of England, the supporting cast, how Jack Clayton thought Laurence Harvey was perfect in the role of Joe Lampton – young, lean and hungry for success. She even reads some negative comments about Harvey, though she doesn’t necessarily agree with them. Well researched and thought out, this commentary is definitely worth a listen!
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:54)