Look Back in Anger [1958/I]

When John Osborne's play Look Back in Anger debuted in 1956, the main character--ranting, relentless, infuriating Jimmy Porter--galvanized audiences and spoke for a young generation frustrated with stagnant life in postwar England. In this contemporary film adaptation, Jimmy Porter (Kenneth Branagh, Henry V, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein), an educated but unfulfilled man, runs a sweet shop and flails at his submissive wife Alison (Emma Thompson, Sense & Sensibility, Angels in America) and everyone else around him. Bitter and self-aggrandizing, Jimmy thinks he's the only one who sees through the suffocating illusions of bourgeois life; he excuses his verbal cruelties as attempts to goad others to wake up to life. Today, Jimmy's behavior may seem less like exhortations to live and more like domestic abuse, but there's no denying it's a juicy, complex role that Branagh digs into with gusto. Branagh's acting can often be vain and self-congratulatory, but here he's aggressive and doesn't shy away from Jimmy's unflattering aspects. Thompson gives a dependably smart and soulful performance. This TV movie version doesn't deviate from the stage production directed in 1989 by Dame Judi Dench (Oscar-winner for Shakespeare in Love); it's Osborne's divisive play presented in all its warts and glory, with no cinematic tricks to cover anything up. In an extra feature, Branagh provides valuable historical context for both the play and the production. --Bret Fetzer

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