Manchester, and Vic Brown (Alan Bates) is a draughtsman at a firm in the city, considering himself a white collar worker and a step up from his working class father. But has he gone up in the world or is he very much part of the Northern environment that he was raised in? He does yearn for a different way of life, and sees romance as a method of improving his lot, because he doesn't half fancy Ingrid Rothwell (June Ritchie) who works as a secretary at his place of employment and even the sight of the back of her head from across a crowded street will send his heart all a-flutter. He makes up his mind to find an excuse to talk to her, and one day after work he jumps on the same bus as her and sees where this takes him...
Where it actually takes him is into misery, and an acknowledgement that all his dreams of escaping Manchester to see the world are just never going to come to fruition. This was John Schlesinger's debut feature and was drawn into the orbit of the British New Wave, those Angry Young Men of drama who revolutionised the way plays, films and television depicted modern Britain of the nineteen-fifties and sixties, though Vic was less angry and more disappointed that he could not gain the agency to improve his existence when everything was set against him doing so, from the society to the attitudes to the most seemingly minor of details, apparently unaware that he was not the first bloke to be kept down by the system.
What was interesting was that Vic did not eventually break free, if anything he had to knuckle down and get on with the thwarted life he had playing out before him, telling us it would be pretty extraordinary if he had managed to fulfil his wishes when countless millions never would. When The Beatles arrived on the scene the following year, that ambition that you could do what he never was able to was a huge influence on not simply Britain but the world, for they were four working class lads, much like Vic, who lived their dreams with all the implications that left, but for our protagonist here there was a far more likely path established where you took your entertainment where you found it and getting ideas above your station was not for the likes of most of us.
Bates offered one of his finest performances as the man forced into a marriage when his starry-eyed view of romance was given a boot up the backside by the realities of relationships, where falling in love was all very well but it was nothing to sustain you, or not in the view of everyone around you. Vic was not exactly an outsider, he remained one of the boys at work and in the pub, and we never find out where he derived his mindset from as his parents are down to earth to say the least; only the way he looks up to his sister indicates why he might have developed an unrealistic set of hopes - she has a happy marriage and is entirely sensible and good-humoured. What he sees in Ingrid is an ideal to be placed on a pedestal, and there is only going to be trouble later on when he twigs she may not entirely live up to that.
The unplanned pregnancy plotline does not occur till the second half of the almost two-hour film, but it was groundbreaking in its day and made the film famous for its clear-eyed depiction of what would happen back then: the moment the girlfriend is with child, she had to be married to the man who made her pregnant, no matter if there was any love between them at all. By this stage, Vic is running hot and cold with Ingrid, and both Bates and Ritchie offered a poignantly believable reading of a couple who may not have been as compatible as they would have initially imagined... but is that not the way with almost every couple, A Kind of Loving muses? The other main character who makes her presence felt was Mrs Rothwell, the mother-in-law, a powerhouse performance of domineering snobbery and intolerance from Thora Hird, possibly her defining role as the kind of battleaxe no man would wish on any other. Her dismay with Vic, and eventual disgust, was the engine that drove him to despair, but that was there already, and the final reconciliation was by no means the happy ending that it appeared. It was all a bit relentless, and there was rarely a film that suited black and white more than this one. Music by Ron Grainer.