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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 James Woolf and John Woolf.

The film stars Simone Signoret, Laurence Harvey, Heather Sears, Donald Wolfit, Donald Houston and Hermione Baddeley. In smaller roles were Allan Cuthbertson, Raymond Huntley, John Westbrook, Richard Pasco and Ambrosine Phillpotts. There are also early cameos by Prunella Scales, Wendy Craig, Derek Benfield, Miriam Karlin, Derren Nesbitt and Ian Hendry. Wilfrid Lawson makes an uncredited appearance as Harvey's uncle.

Signoret won the Academy Award for Best Actress for this film, while Baddeley's performance became the shortest ever to be nominated for an acting Oscar (she had 2 minutes and 20 seconds of screen time).


In early 1950s Yorkshire, England, ambitious young man Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey), 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 is drawn to Susan Brown (Heather Sears), daughter of the local industrial magnate, Mr Brown (Donald Wolfit). He deals with Joe’s social climbing by sending Susan abroad; Joe turns for solace to Alice Aisgill (Simone Signoret), an unhappily married older woman who falls in love with him.

When Susan returns from her holiday, shortly after the lovers have quarrelled, Joe seduces her, and then returns to Alice. Discovering that Susan is pregnant, Mr Brown, after failing to buy-off Joe, coerces him to give up Alice and marry his daughter. Deserted and heartbroken, Alice launches on a drinking bout that culminates in her car-accident death. Distraught, Joe disappears, and, after being beaten unconscious by a gang of toughs for making a drunken pass at one of their women, his colleague, Soames, rescues him in time to wed Susan.


There are some differences to Braine's novel. His friend Charles, whom he meets at Warnley in the film, is a friend from his hometown Dufton in the novel. Warnley is called Warley in the novel. More emphasis is paid to his lodging at Mrs Thompson's, which in the novel he has arranged beforehand and not, as in the film, his friend Charles arranges for him. 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, and serves as a metaphor for Lampton's ambition to rise in the world.

Background and production

Poster showing film's X certificate
Room at the Top is considered the first of the British New Wave of realistic and gritty film dramas. It was filmed at Shepperton Studiosmarker in Londonmarker, with extensive location work in Halifaxmarker, Yorkshiremarker, which stood in for the fictional towns of Warnley and Dufton. Some scenes were also filmed in Bradford, notably the scene with Joe travelling on a bus and spotting Susan in a lingerie shop. 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 Hallmarker was used for the Warnley Town Hall filming.

Vivien Leigh was originally offered the part of Alice, which eventually went to Simone Signoret.


The film's relatively strong sexual content ensured it an "X" certificate, but it was saved from failure when Associated British Cinemas agreed to distribute it, making it a surprising commercial success. The film was critically acclaimed and marked the beginning of Jack Clayton's career as an important director.

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


Awards and nominations

Academy Awards

Wins Nominations

Signoret's Oscar win as Best Actress was the first time that a French cinema actress had won that award.

BAFTA Awards

Wins Nominations

Golden Globe Awards

  • Samuel Goldwyn Award
  • Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama (Simone Signoret)

Cannes Film Festival

Win Nomination


External links


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