Everything you need to know about Kitchen Sink Dramas

Eleanor Dunn 

Kitchen Sink Dramas are often all about the young and the angry. Characters are poor, disillusioned, and normally have a pint in their hands. There is something inherently British about these films—incredibly intelligent, self-reflexive, and crucially able to laugh at themselves.

First of all, why 'Kitchen Sink'?

Dissecting this term will give you a pretty firm idea of what the film movement is all about. ‘Kitchen Sink’ is derived from an expressionist painting by John Bratby featuring an image of, you guessed it, a kitchen sink.

The sink was widely understood to represent domesticity, and the strains of banal, mundane everyday life.

Image via myfriendshouse.co.uk 

Whilst Americans are generally the best at flash, action, beautiful people and idealism, no one portrays ordinary life on film like the British.

The French produced the rebellious Nouvelle Vague, and in the late ‘50s British filmmakers responded with a staggeringly poignant movement of films concentrating on the ‘normal’, the working class. This was truly gritty and visceral social realism.

Kitchen Sink Dramas usually centre on angry, young protagonists; they are often poor, disillusioned, and normally have a pint in their hands.

There is something inherently British about the unapologetic honesty of these films—incredibly intelligent, self-reflexive, and crucially able to laugh at themselves. Oh, and featuring glorious regional accents.


These are five of our favourite Kitchen Sink Dramas—whether you’re new to the movement or an out-and-out film buff, these giants of pop culture are sure to win you over:


Spring and Port Wine

Image via MovieMail

This complex family drama is set in Bolton in the late ‘60s. James Mason stars as Rafe Compton, a strict working class dad who juggles raising his four children with his wife Daisy (Diana Coupland).

The cultural landscape of swingin’ sixties Britain is changing by the minute, and Rafe is more-than-a-little flustered. His daughter (Susan George) refuses to eat the herring Daisy has prepared for a family meal. This small incident snowballs and things begin to fall apart. Rodney Bewes and Hannah Gordon complete the terrific cast.

Buy the DVD 


A Kind of Loving

Image via YouTube

Manchester draftsman Vic (Alan Bates) falls for his secretary, Ingrid (June Ritchie). The situation goes from complicated to life-changing when Ingrid falls pregnant.

In a panicked haze, Vic proposes to Ingrid, and the pair are forced into living with her mother. What follows is a poignant portrayal of class divides in the UK—the family is torn by prejudice, and eventually struck by tragedy.

Buy the DVD


The L-Shaped Room

Image via Pintrest

L-Shaped Room is perhaps the most hard-hitting of our selection; the story follows Jane (Leslie Caron), a young woman deserted by the father of her unborn child.

Seeking solace in a grim boarding house, Leslie finds herself on the verge of getting an abortion. When she meets Tom, a down-and-out writer who lives above her, Leslie’s perspective is changed irreversibly.

Buy the DVD


Room at the Top

Image via guim.co.uk

A big name of the British New Wave, Room at the Top follows young go-getter Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey).

Sick of sweating buckets for his overwhelming job, he vows to pursue his boss’s daughter, Susan who he is sure she will be his ticket to the top of the food chain.

Struggling against the stigmas of his working class background, and confronted with the snobbery of Susan’s parents, Joe’s entire life will slowly unravel. This powerful drama puts us face-to-face with everyday cruelties of classism.

Buy the DVD


Up the Junction

Image via BFI

Perhaps the most famed of our collection, Up the Junction will most likely be the first title mentioned if you utter the words ‘Kitchen Sink Drama.’

Privilaged Polly Dean (Suzy Kendall), absconds her lavish life in favour of working in a factory in Battersea (Common People, anyone?). She befriends two sisters from the area, and starts dating working-class lad Pete (Dennis Waterman).

Pete isn’t sure how to handle a relationship with a woman who can so easily come and go into a life without money. The drama escalates, and what results is a realist exploration of love, hardship and class unlike any other.

Buy the DVD


Honourable mention

The conventions of the Kitchen Sink Drama are still echoed today; watch Coronation Street or EastEnders? This social-realist style of British cinematography certainly isn’t going anywhere, and there are more than a few titles that deserve a mention—these are the game-changing films that started it all.

  • Kes (1969) is Ken Loach's acclaimed British drama about an abused young boy with an unbreakable spirit. 
  • Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957) is an intimate, affecting domestic drama following an adulterous husband and the plight of his family. 
  • Finally, Ken Loach's Poor Cow (1967) follows a London woman's will to survive after her violent husband is put in prison.  

Browse our classic films, TV shows and the latest releases in our DVD Shop.