Director Tony Richardson selected Rita Tushingham for the lead role of Jo after auditioning two thousand young women. A Taste of Honey marked Tushingham’s screen debut, and while her performance went on to win the best actress award at Cannes in 1962, she was still so unknown at the festival that she had difficulty getting into the film’s after-party.
A Taste of Honey is an adaptation of one of the most controversial British plays of the 1950s, which was written by Shelagh Delaney when she was eighteen years old. The play was first staged in 1958 on the outskirts of London, at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, by radical theater director Joan Littlewood, who would come to be known in the UK as the “mother of modern theater.” Two years later, it premiered on Broadway in a production directed by Richardson and starring Angela Lansbury, Joan Plowright, and Billy Dee Williams.
Richardson was one of the major figures of the Free Cinema movement, which pioneered low-budget independent filmmaking in England. His first film was 1956’s Momma Don’t Allow, a short documentary about a North London jazz club, codirected by fellow Free Cinema filmmaker Karel Reisz. In addition to directing, Richardson cofounded Woodfall Film Productions, which went on to make some of the most acclaimed British cinema of the 1960s, including Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and Richardson’s Oscar-winning Tom Jones.
The film’s themes of interracial relationships, homosexuality, and teen pregnancy led to it receiving an X rating in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. In various locations, a study guide on the “causes and cures” of homosexuality was distributed to audience members.
A Taste of Honey was the first major British film production shot entirely on location. Cinematographer Walter Lassally shot it in Salford and Blackpool with three different camera stocks, which were chosen for their granularity and corresponded to the art direction. Lassally, who was well known in England for his work on documentaries, would go on to collaborate with Richardson on the director’s next two films, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and Tom Jones.
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