The UK during the 1960s was a very different place. Free from the prudish censorship that would hit it during the 70s, British cinema was keen on touching delicate subjects, influenced perhaps by the winds of change from the continent. Bryan Forbes, he who was an established actor and would direct, years later, The Stepford Wives, gives us, in his second feature, a bittersweet story about an unwanted pregnancy.
Jane (Leslie Caron), a single French woman, got pregnant by accident by a man she is not in love with. She moves into a shady London boarding house, where she meets a strange group of flatmates. One of them, Toby (Tom Bell), a struggling writer, takes an interest on her, and the two rapidly fall for each other. As Jane decides not to get an abortion, and starts learning how to be loved and love in return, she is torn between her future child and Toby’s reaction to her status.
With a story that feels incredibly modern by most of its duration, The L-Shaped Room is also an amazing window over Swinging Sixties London, showing the grim and the parties with the same impeccable cinematography (courtesy of Douglas Slocombe, the man who lensed the original Indiana Jones trilogy). But the highest point of Forbes’s film is, without a doubt, the performance of Leslie Caron as Jane Fosset. Caron, mostly known by her roles in Gigi (1958) and An American in Paris (1951), gives here a complex, layered delivery as an independent woman, confident in her own feelings and ambitions, who refuses to be pushed around by society expectations or fake moralities. She is casual about her predicament, does not seek the “easy” way out, and doesn’t give herself blindly to Toby, who presents himself as a knight in shiny armour, though it would be easy to fool him. Her innocent face and decided ways make Jane Fosset an unforgettable character, and one that is most surprising as being denser and better built than most female characters nowadays (maybe because the script was based on a novel written by a woman, Lynne Reid Banks, but still, kudos for Forbes and Caron to deliver it as they did).
A bit lost to the times, The L-Shaped Room is a portrait of an incredible transition era, with a strong, memorable female protagonist, and an ending that makes no concessions to Hollywood happy-ever-after. A pleasant discovery and a must-watch for film lovers.
The L-Shaped Room is available from 27th November 2017 in DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of StudioCanal.