Room at the Top (1959 film)

Room at the Top is a 1959 British film based on the novel of the same name by John Braine. The novel was adapted by Neil Paterson with uncredited work by Mordecai Richler. It was directed by Jack Clayton in his feature-length directorial debut and produced by John and James Woolf. The film stars Laurence Harvey, Simone Signoret, Heather Sears, Donald Wolfit, Donald Houston and Hermione Baddeley.

Room at the Top
Original British 1959 quad size film poster
Directed byJack Clayton
Produced byJohn Woolf
James Woolf
Screenplay byNeil Paterson
Mordecai Richler (uncredited)
Based onRoom at the Top
by John Braine
StarringLaurence Harvey
Simone Signoret
Heather Sears
Donald Wolfit
Hermione Baddeley
Music byMario Nascimbene
CinematographyFreddie Francis
Edited byRalph Kemplen
Distributed byBritish Lion Films (UK)
Continental Distributing (US)
Release date
  • 22 January 1959 (1959-01-22) (UK)
  • 30 March 1959 (1959-03-30) (US)
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$2,400,000 (US)[2]

Room at the Top was widely lauded, and was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning Best Actress for Signoret and Best Adapted Screenplay for Paterson. Its other nominations included Best Picture, Best Director for Clayton, Best Actor for Harvey, and Best Supporting Actress for Baddeley.[3] Baddeley's performance, consisting of 2 minutes and 19 seconds of screen time, became the shortest ever to be nominated for an acting Oscar. [4]


In late 1940s West Riding of Yorkshire, England, Joe Lampton, an ambitious young man who has just moved from the dreary factory town of Dufton, arrives in Warnley to assume a secure, but poorly paid, post in the Borough Treasurer's Department. Determined to succeed, and ignoring the warnings of a colleague, Soames, he pursues Susan Brown, daughter of the local industrial magnate, Mr. Brown. Mr. and Mrs. Brown deal with Joe's social climbing by sending Susan abroad.

Joe turns for solace to Alice Aisgill, an unhappily married older woman. Joe and Alice have an affair, though he continues his pursuit of Susan upon her return. Once he has had sex with her, however, he loses interest and admits to himself that he truly loves Alice. Alice is overjoyed by Joe's decision to end his quest for wealth and social status in favour of simply being happy with himself and with her. The two of them decide that she should ask for a divorce from her brutal husband George Aisgill. But George refuses and declares that he will ruin Joe and Alice, both socially and financially, if their relationship continues. Meanwhile, Susan's father delivers the news that Susan is pregnant; he expects Joe immediately to stop seeing Alice, marry Susan and come to work for him as an executive.

After Joe delivers the news that he will marry Susan, the heartbroken Alice gets drunk and crashes her car. She is mutilated but not immediately found and dies slowly over the ensuing hours. Distraught over the loss of Alice and blaming himself for her fate, Joe disappears. After being beaten unconscious by a gang of thugs for making a drunken pass at one of their women, Joe is recovered by Soames in time to marry Susan. With that, Joe has at last accomplished all of the goals that he had so long sought, but that he no longer desires.

Main cast


There are some differences from Braine's novel. His friend Charlie Soames, whom he meets at Warnley in the film, is a friend from his hometown Dufton in the novel. Also, Warnley is called Warley in the book. More emphasis is paid to his lodging at Mrs Thompson's, which in the novel he has arranged beforehand (in the film, his friend Charlie arranges it soon after they meet). In the book, the room is itself significant, and is strongly emphasised early in the story; Mrs Thompson's room is noted as being at "the top" of Warley geographically, and higher up socially than he has previously experienced. It also serves as a metaphor for Lampton's ambition to rise in the world.


Producer James Woolf bought the film rights to the novel, originally intending to cast Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons. Vivien Leigh was originally offered the part of Alice, in which Simone Signoret was eventually cast.[5] He hired Jack Clayton as director after seeing The Bespoke Overcoat,[6] a short, on which John Woolf had worked (uncredited) and their film company had produced.

Room at the Top is thought to be the first of the British New Wave of Kitchen sink realism film dramas.[7] It was filmed at Shepperton Studios in Surrey, with extensive location work in Halifax, Yorkshire, which stood in for the fictional towns of Warnley and Dufton. Some scenes were also filmed in Bradford, notably with Joe travelling on a bus and spotting Susan in a lingerie shop and the outside of the amateur dramatics theatre. Greystones, a large mansion in the Savile Park area of Halifax, was used for location filming of the outside scenes of the Brown family mansion; Halifax railway station doubled as Warnley Station in the film, and Halifax Town Hall was used for the Warnley Town Hall filming.

Room at the Top was followed by a sequel in 1965 called Life at the Top.


The film was critically acclaimed[8] and marked the beginning of Jack Clayton's career as an important director. It became the third most popular film at the British box office in 1959 after Carry On Nurse and Inn of the Sixth Happiness[9] grossing $700,000.[10]

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards



BAFTA Awards



Golden Globe Awards


  • Samuel Goldwyn Award


  • Best Motion Picture Actress – Drama (Simone Signoret)

Cannes Film Festival



See also


  1. Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p50
  2. M-G-M CASHING IN ON OSCAR VICTORY: ' Ben-Hur' Gross Expected to Reach 7 Million by Week's End -- 'Spartacus' Booked New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 07 Apr 1960: 44.
  3. "Academy Awards Database: Room at the Top". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  4. "Screen Time Central: Shortest Performances". Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  5. David Thomson Have You Seen, London: Allen Lane; New York: Knopf, 2008, p.736
  6. Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p51
  7. Roberts, Andrew (21 June 2009). "The film that changed British Cinema". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  8. "British 'Room' Rousing $19,500 Sets London Pix Pace". Variety. 4 February 1959. p. 13. Retrieved 4 July 2019 via
  9. The Times, 1 January 1960, page 13: Year of Profitable British Films - The Times Digital Archive, accessed 11 July 2012
  10. "Gag-Films Rule British Trade". Variety. 20 April 1960. p. 47 via
  11. "Festival de Cannes: Room at the Top". Retrieved 15 February 2009.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.