Review: ‘Sparrows Can’t Sing’

For her first essay in pix, Joan Littlewood plays fairly safe. The film is based on a play that she staged at the Theatre Workshop. She and the author of the play (Stephen Lewis) collaborated on the loose screenplay and Littlewood surrounds herself with most of the Workshop cast. She also operates almost entirely on location in the East End that she knows and clearly loves so well.

For her first essay in pix, Joan Littlewood plays fairly safe. The film is based on a play that she staged at the Theatre Workshop. She and the author of the play (Stephen Lewis) collaborated on the loose screenplay and Littlewood surrounds herself with most of the Workshop cast. She also operates almost entirely on location in the East End that she knows and clearly loves so well.

The storyline is disarmingly slight. James Booth plays a tearaway merchant seaman who comes back to his East End home after two years afloat to find that his home had been torn down during replanning and his wife (Barbara Windsor) has found herself another nest with a local bus driver. His arrival strikes uneasiness in the hearts of the locals, who know his uncertain temper. But Booth sets out to find his wife and collect his conjugal rights.

This could have been played for drama or even tragedy. The screenplay writers and Littlewood’s direction beckon to the brighter and breezier slant and, though there is a sober side to the film, this is mostly played for yocks. Much of the dialog, which is rather salty, appears to have been made up off the cuff of the players. This shows up dangerously in the intimate scenes, but gives gusto to others.

Booth is a striking personality, a punchy blend of toughness, potential evil and irresistible charm. Barbara Windsor (who also chants the Lionel Bart title song) is a cute young blonde who teeters delightfully through her role, on stiletto heels and with a devastating sense of logic.

Sparrows Can't Sing

UK

Production

Carthage. Director Joan Littlewood; Producer Donald Taylor; Screenplay Stephen Lewis, Joan Littlewood; Camera Max Greene, Desmond Dickinson; Editor Oswald Hafenrichter; Music Stanley Black, James Stevens; Art Director Bernard Sarron

Crew

(B&W) Available on VHS. Extract of a review from 1963. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

James Booth Barbara Windsor Roy Kinnear George Sewell Avis Bunnage Barbara Ferris
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