The L-Shaped Room (1962) Blu-ray Review: The Misplaced Misfits

Long before Hollywood tried to appeal to everyone by adding various “token” characters from all walks of life, postwar British filmmakers were trying something much more subtle and less transparent. One stellar example is the 1962 domestic drama The L-Shaped Room from director Bryan Forbes (The Stepford Wives). Adapted for the screen by Forbes from the best-selling novel by Lynne Reid Banks (The Indian in the Cupboard), this solid little “kitchen sink” drama finds former musical icon Leslie Caron (An American in Paris, Gigi) as one of many tenants in a boarding house full of characters who would be quite out of place anywhere else.

The movie opens with a 27-year-old woman named Jane (Caron) arriving at a rundown multi-residence flat in Notting Hill all by her lonesome, where she promptly rents the eponymous chamber of dwelling. Not only is our protagonist a foreigner ‒ another stunning import from France ‒ but she is also several months pregnant, unmarried, and determined to remain single. While I know that is probably difficult for all you Teen Mom fans to fathom, it was a major social no-no back in ’62. Fortunately for Jane, the building is home (or at least host) to a variety of other outcasts and misfits, including an elderly lesbian and her younger lover, a couple of prostitutes, and even James Bond’s future boss.

But it is in the perplexing persona of a struggling young writer named Toby (Tom Bell) that Jane feels the most “at home” with. This leads to an awfully awkward semi-romance betwixt the two as she struggles with her pregnancy and his immaturity (I guess he really is a writer after all!) and he tries to cope with the fact she is carrying the developing seed of another man. Meanwhile, their kindly friend and neighbor Johnny (the marvelous Brock Peters, a year away from co-starring in To Kill a Mockingbird) ‒ whose character would be that of the “token black guy” were this a contemporary Hollywood production ‒ begins to grow a tad bit upset over their naked couplings.

Co-produced by Richard Attenborough, this award-winning departure from Leslie Caron’s musical side also features Bernard Lee (the original “M” of the 007 series) as a frequent houseguest to the ladies of the night below, Patricia Phoenix as one of the aforementioned working girls, and Cicely Courtneidge as the aged lesbian/and former actress. Fans of the iconic ’80s British music group The Smiths will surely want to check out The L-Shaped Room, as a moment where Ms. Courtneidge and Co. engage in a singalong of “Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty” is where the opening of “The Queen is Dead” was sampled from. If nothing else, consider that.

Presented in its original 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio, The L-Shaped Room arrives on Blu-ray from Sony and Twilight Time via a stellar MPEG-4 AVC 1080p codec. The image here is first-rate throughout, as is the DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack, and optional English (SDH) subtitles are included. Twilight Time’s special features for this Limited Edition release consist of an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 score by future 007 composer John Barry; an informative audio commentary by Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo, and Lem Dobbs; and the US theatrical trailer. Liner notes by the previously mentioned Ms. Kirgo close the door on Twilight Time’s release of The L-Shaped Room, which is reserved to the first 3,000 occupants.

To modern moviegoers, The L-Shaped Room would probably best be described as an “indie” flick where a lot goes on, but nothing ever happens. And while any such assessment may be essentially correct, it is undoubtedly unfair to say to the face of this BAFTA winner and subsequent Oscar nominee (naturally, the film didn’t win an award in America, since we’re still struggling with issuing our own assorted inequalities). It’s a character drama, plain and simple, but one filled with complex and ‒ more importantly, very human ‒ beings whom the norms of society have sought to condemn for being different. And frankly, there is nothing more fascinating to watch than a group of outcasts being themselves.

Recommended. Doubly so if you fancy yourself to be a Morrissey fan.

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Luigi Bastardo

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