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Room At The Top
Room At The Top, adapted from John Braine's classic post-War novel, tells the story of an ambitious, working-class young man, Joe Lampton, who'll stop at nothing to make something of himself — and becomes embroiled in a love triangle that proves fatal. Maxine Peake, 38, whose credits include Silk, Little Dorrit, See No Evil: The Moors Murders and Shameless, plays the sensual older woman Alice Aisgill, with whom Joe (Matthew McNulty) falls in love…
Had you read the novel or seen the 1959 film, starring Laurence Harvey and French actress Simone Signoret before you took the role?
I'd seen the film because I'm obsessed with that period of late Fifties and early Sixties British New Wave films. I always used to wish I was around then. My favourite actress is Rachel Roberts who was in Saturday Night And Sunday Morning. When they rang and asked me to come and read for Alice I went, 'But she's French!' because that's the role Signoret played. But then I read the novel and Alice isn't actually French in that. I think in the period they made that film they thought if you were playing a sexy, wayward woman like Alice you couldn't possibly be British — you had to be from the Continent!
When is the moment, do you think, that Alice falls in love with Joe?
Gosh, let me think. I mean, she finds him attractive from the off. And the other thing with Alice, if you read the novel, is it's not the first time she's had a fling. But that was just for a bit of excitement, she never, ever thought that she would fall in love, and she had no intention of falling for Joe. But it was just a bolt out of the blue.
You come from quite a strongly Socialist family, do you think the ideas of the book, of an upwardly mobile society and of angry young men, are still relevant today?
Well, after the War people went one way or the other in terms of politics, didn't they? This monster of capitalism formed, and Joe Lampton was riding on the back of that. But it didn't work for him — he sold his soul, really, for his success. But at the time it was a bright new future, and capitalism was supposedly taking us forward. And now it's tottering around on its last legs! And of course I think there are a lot of angry young men — and women out there. There are no jobs, there's no future. We always felt we would do better than our parents, you know? I look at the generation coming up now, and what is there for them? They can't get an education because of the fees. The future seems quite bleak.
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