Room at the Top (1959 film)

This article is about the film. For other uses, see Room at the Top (disambiguation).
Room at the Top

Original British 1959 quad size film poster
Directed by Jack Clayton
Produced by John and James Woolf
Screenplay by Neil Paterson
Mordecai Richler (uncredited)
Based on Room at the Top
by John Braine
Starring Laurence Harvey
Simone Signoret
Heather Sears
Donald Wolfit
Hermione Baddeley
Music by Mario Nascimbene
Cinematography Freddie Francis
Edited by Ralph Kemplen
Distributed by British Lion Films (UK)
Continental Distributing (US)
Release dates
  • 22 January 1959 (1959-01-22) (UK)
Running time
115 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £280,000[1]
Box office $2,400,000 (US)[2]

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.[3] Baddeley's performance, consisting of 2 minutes and 32 seconds of screen time, became the shortest ever to be nominated for an acting Oscar.[4]


In late 1940s Yorkshire, England, Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey), 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 (Donald Houston), he pursues Susan Brown (Heather Sears), daughter of the local industrial magnate, Mr Brown (Donald Wolfit). Mr and Mrs Brown (Ambrosine Phillpotts) deal with Joe's social climbing by sending Susan abroad.

Joe turns for solace to Alice Aisgill (Simone Signoret), an unhappily married older woman. Joe and Alice have an affair and eventually fall in love with each other, but when they decide that she should ask for a divorce, her brutal husband George Aisgill (Alan Cuthbert) threatens Joe with the ruin of them both. Meanwhile, Joe and Susan, who has returned from abroad, meet again and end up having sex. Susan gets pregnant and her parents now insist that Susan and Joe quickly marry, forcing Joe to give Alice up. The heartbroken Alice gets drunk, crashes her car and dies. Distraught over the loss of Alice, Joe disappears and, after being beaten unconscious by a gang of thugs for making a drunken pass at one of their women, is recovered by Soames in time to marry Susan.

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.[6] He hired Jack Clayton as director after seeing The Bespoke Overcoat,[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards



BAFTA Awards



Golden Globe Awards



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. Kim, Wook (22 February 2013). "17 Unusual Oscar Records: Shortest Performance to Win an Acting Award: 5 Minutes and 40 Seconds". Time. New York City: Time Warner. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  5. Walker, Craig (2011). On The Buses: The Complete Story. Andrews UK Limited. ISBN 9781908382849.
  6. David Thomson Have You Seen, London: Allen Lane; New York: Knopf, 2008, p.736
  7. Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p51
  8. Roberts, Andrew (21 June 2009). "The film that changed British Cinema". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 November 2016.
  9. The Times, 1 January 1960, page 13: Year of Profitable British Films - The Times Digital Archive, accessed 11 July 2012
  10. "Festival de Cannes: Room at the Top". Retrieved 15 February 2009.
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