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Room at the Top (1959 film)

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]

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, for Best Picture, Best Director for Clayton, Best Actor for Harvey, and Best Supporting Actress for Baddeley, winning Best Actress for Signoret and Best Adapted Screenplay for Paterson. Baddeley's performance became the shortest ever to be nominated for an acting Oscar (she had 2 minutes and 20 seconds of screen time).


  • Plot 1
  • Main cast 2
  • Adaptation 3
  • Production 4
  • Reception 5
  • Awards and nominations 6
    • Academy Awards 6.1
    • BAFTA Awards 6.2
    • Golden Globe Awards 6.3
    • Cannes Film Festival 6.4
  • References 7
  • External links 8


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 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 (Joe and Alice) have quarrelled, Joe seduces Susan, 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 thugs for making a drunken pass at one of their women, he is rescued by his colleague Soames in time to marry Susan.

Main cast


There are some differences from 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 (in the film, his friend Charles 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, and 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.[3] He hired Jack Clayton as director after seeing The Bespoke Overcoat,[4] a short 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 realistic 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.[5]

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards



BAFTA Awards



Golden Globe Awards


  • Samuel Goldwyn Award


  • Best Motion Picture Actress – Drama (Simone Signoret)

Cannes Film Festival




  1. ^ Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p50
  2. ^ Walker, Craig (2011). On The Buses: The Complete Story. Andrews UK Limited.  
  3. ^ David Thomson Have You Seen, London: Allen Lane; New York: Knopf, 2008, p.736
  4. ^ Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p51
  5. ^ The Times, 1 January 1960, page 13: Year of Profitable British Films - The Times Digital Archive, accessed 11 July 2012
  6. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Room at the Top". Retrieved 15 February 2009. 

External links

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