Sunday, 12 March 2017

Girl on Approval (1961)

Girl on Approval is a low-budget 1961 drama made by Eyeline Films for Bryanston, that attempts to tread a path towards the then popular New Wave/Kitchen Sink genre.



Rachel Roberts, fresh from her success with Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, stars opposite James Maxwell as a married couple, newly arrived in London, and looking to bolster their young family of two boys by fostering. As the film develops we learn that Roberts desire is borne from the fact that she lost a baby daughter and is now unable to conceive again. Unfortunately, the surrogate they select is a deeply rebellious and damaged teenager called Sheila, played by the Tushingham-esque Annette Whiteley, who has been in care since she was an infant. 

Directed by Charles Frend (of Scott of the Antarctic and The Cruel Sea fame) this is very evocative of the period but it's clear that their are two elements at play here. One is the self-conscious, earnest and worthy approach to the subject matter; a sort of 'whatever are we to do?' middle-class conundrum in which a cup of tea attempts to solve most of Sheila's wayward behaviour and volatile tantrums. Whilst the other is the more progressive approach of the New Wave, thanks largely to a rather naturalistic performance from Whiteley that has stood the test of time and left me wondering why she didn't reach the same heights as Tushingham herself. 


These two styles occasionally jar - Maxwell's performance in particular fits the earnest middle class standard, complete with his abhorrence at finding his eldest son has bought a toy gun from Woolworths - but in the long run it actually benefits the film to see how the lives and experiences of the emotionally crippled, working class Sheila and the middle class family home she finds herself in differ. Occasionally the film hints at darker themes - Sheila's possible crush and girly manipulation of her new foster father, and a moment of danger when she runs away from home and attracts the attention of a shady looking older man - but it would be some years before those kind of things would be more fully explored on screen (even if they tended to err towards the exploitative; see Baby Love), so they remain unsettling undercurrents here.


It's in Rachel Roberts' performance that both styles are best straddled, suggesting that the behaviour of Sheila is less of a surprise to this former girl of the valleys as it is to her technical college lecturer husband. It's there in her mild dissatisfaction at finding herself in a less than welcoming suburbia (She condemns an uncredited, bowler-hatted Anton Rodgers behind his back for returning her greeting in a scant and haughty manner) and in her often explosive reaction to Sheila's misbehaviour.

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