Room at the Top, based on John Braine’s best-selling novel, is an adult, human picture. Neil Paterson’s literate, well-molded screenplay is enhanced by subtle, intelligent direction from first-timer Jack Clayton and a batch of topnotch performances.
Laurence Harvey takes a job as an accountant in the local government offices of a North Country town. He is an alert young man with a chip on his shoulder because of his humble background. He quickly finds that the small town is virtually controlled by a self-made millionaire and is dominated by those with money and power. Harvey is determined to break down this class-consciousness and sets his cap at the millionaire’s daughter. At the same time he is irresistibly drawn to an unhappily married Frenchwoman (Simone Signoret) with whom he has a violent affair.
The Clayton touch produces some fine scenes. These include the young girl’s first capitulation to Harvey, the manner in which the millionaire stresses his power over the young upstart, the love scenes between Harvey and Simone Signoret and their quarrel and parting. Above all, Clayton never loses the authentic ‘small town’ atmosphere.
Harvey makes a credible figure of the young man, likeable despite his weaknesses, torn between love and ambition, and he brings strength and feeling to his love scenes with Signoret. She gives perhaps, the best performance in a capital all-round cast. Heather Sears has less opportunity as the young girl.
1959: Best Actress (Simone Signoret), Adapted Screenplay.
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Laurence Harvey), Supp. Actress (Hermione Baddeley)