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 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 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. Baddeley's performance, consisting of 2 minutes and 32 seconds of screen time, became the shortest ever to be nominated for an acting Oscar.
In late 1940s 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 favor 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.
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. He hired Jack Clayton as director after seeing The Bespoke Overcoat, 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. 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 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.
WinsBest Actress in a Leading Role (Simone Signoret)
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
Best Actor in a Leading Role, (Laurence Harvey)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Hermione Baddeley)
Best Director (Jack Clayton)
WinsBest British Film
Best Film from any Source
BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Simone Signoret)
NominationsBest British Actor (Laurence Harvey)
Best British Actor (Donald Wolfit)
Best British Actress (Hermione Baddeley)
Most Promising Newcomer (Mary Peach)
WinSamuel Goldwyn Award
NominationBest Motion Picture Actress – Drama (Simone Signoret)
WinBest Actress (Simone Signoret)
NominationGolden Palm (Jack Clayton)