A Taste of Honey
Starring: Rita Tushingham, Dora Bryan, Murray Melvin
Written by: Shelagh Delaney, Tony Richardson
Directed by: Tony Richardson
How good is this movie?
I tend to think of coming-of-age movies as depressing – and this film is probably a big part of the reason why. It deserves lots of credit for depicting themes and characters not normally seen in contemporary cinema. Rita Tushingham is also great in the role of Jo. But the first half can feel a bit tedious and, while I enjoy the second half, it’s also depressing to watch all the characters’ dreams get crushed. In the end, no one gets anywhere or accomplishes anything, and there doesn’t even seem to be a takeaway, unless it’s that every girl is, in fact, destined to grow up like her mother.
How ace is this movie?
Sexuality and romantic encounters are a major part of the story, but the film is matter-of-fact and even cynical about them. Jo’s single mother, Helen, is fond of bringing men home. When she finds a new boyfriend and the two get engaged, Jo feels tossed aside. She starts dating a sailor named Jimmy, with whom she briefly finds happiness, but when the affair ends Jo is left alone and pregnant.
In the aftermath, Jo finds her own apartment and invites a young man named Geoffrey to move in with her. The two develop a domestic partnership that is close and mutually supportive, but mostly platonic. Things between them are not always easy. Geoffrey, despite being gay, keeps trying to talk Jo into marrying him, while Jo, despite being an expectant mother, is resistant to the idea of a long-term partner. This leads to a lot of friction between them, such as the moment Geoff insists on kissing Jo, saying, “I’ve never kissed a girl,” and Jo pushes him away, telling him to “practise on somebody else!” The characters’ motivations are somewhat open to interpretation. Does Geoffrey see marriage to Jo as a way of “going straight”, or is he genuinely in love with her? Does Jo resist romance because she prefers being single or because she’s afraid of getting her heart broken? Either way, the two obviously do care about each other, even if, as Jo says, “it’s not marrying love between us.” When Geoffrey tells Jo he wants to be her baby’s father, he seems to truly want the experiences of partnership and fatherhood for their own sake. And Joe clearly has a lot of affection for Geoff, referring to him teasingly as her “big sister”. It is the moments when they can both enjoy the relationship for what it is, without either of them trying to force anything on the other, that are the most joyful. And, from an ace perspective, they point towards the possibility of close, committed, non-sexual intimacy. In fact, the relationship could easily be described as a “queerplatonic partnership”, though it is, sadly, one that is not destined to survive.
Aces may also find a lot to relate to in the character of Jo. Though she initiates sex with Jimmy, he is the only person she shows any sexual interest in. She resists getting into a romantic relationship with Geoff, and she does not seem interested in pursuing anyone else. I suspect a lot of aces and aros could relate to her disdain for romance and her declaration that, “I’m everything to meself.” She also seems uncomfortable with normative femininity. After learning she is pregnant, she wrestles with a lot of conflicted feelings about her impending motherhood, and it often falls to Geoffrey to prepare for the baby’s arrival. Indeed, Jo seems to view both motherhood and womanhood as afflictions she has to cope with, rather than roles that come naturally to her.
3 Stars; 3 Aces