The Colour of Social Realism

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
627 Downloads (Pure)


During the 1960s Eastmancolor, a relatively cheap, widely available film stock, revolutionised the British film industry's approach to colour. This article discusses the consequences of this major representational and aesthetic shift on social realism, a sub-genre of British cinema primarily associated with black and white cinematography. While colour provided an opportunity for greater realism, critics argued that it distracted audiences with hues considered inappropriate for social commentary. The article examines how a number of notable 1950s and 1960s British colour films navigated entrenched critical positions while deploying colour in distinctive, often innovative ways to reflect their social realist environments and themes. Films examined include A Kid for Two Farthings (1955), Miracle in Soho (1957), Sapphire (1959), Flame in the Streets (1961), Some People (1962), The Family Way (1966) and Poor Cow (1967). It is argued that critics' preoccupation with the New Wave cycle of films, 1959–63, has been at the expense of colour films that extended the range of representation, both aesthetically and thematically. Bringing colour more centrally into scholarship about British cinema contributes to revisionist research on social realism that privileges the foregrounding of style and textual aesthetics. In addition, the article shows how analysing films from the perspective of colour encourages relating them to broader chromatic tastes and trends. By the mid-1960s, as culture was generally becoming more chromatically vibrant, film-makers were able to take greater advantage of the colour stocks that enabled them to experiment with realist conventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-490
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of British Cinema and Television
Issue number4
Early online date1 Sep 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018


Dive into the research topics of 'The Colour of Social Realism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this