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Remembering classic film after death of an unsung queer pioneer

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Last week, with the April 14 passing of English actor, director, and theater archivist Murray Melvin at the age of 90, the world lost a queer cinema icon.

If you feel bad for wondering, “Who’s that?”, don’t worry. Although the film with which he made his name – “A Taste of Honey,” directed by British New Wave filmmaker Tony Richardson –was an acclaimed and popular award-winner when it was released in 1961, it’s likely only familiar to the most ardent cinema buffs today, especially among younger generations; and though Melvin remained a familiar fixture of the London theater world and made several significant further film and television appearances, his fame outside the UK was limited – so you’re easily pardoned for not knowing who he was.

Yet while popular memory may have moved on from the era in which “A Taste of Honey” made waves on both sides of the Atlantic, its historical importance – not just as a milestone of queer inclusion on the screen, but as a seminal work in a major art-and-cultural movement – still looms large.

Based on a 1958 play by Shelagh Delaney, it was part of an aesthetic wave in Britain known as “Kitchen Sink Realism” (or alternatively, the “Angry Young Man” movement, though in this case both the writer and the lead character were female), which focused on the gritty lives and hardships of the working class to explore the social ills and inequities of British society.

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