‘Let Us Compare Mythologies’ or Raising Hell?: Rebellious Actors in 1960s British Cinema

Langhorst, Caroline
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De Montfort University
Peer reviewed
This PhD thesis undertakes an interdisciplinary investigation that seeks to integrate star, gender and theatre and performance studies with a cultural history perspective on post-war British screen actors. Starting with actors associated with the Angry Young Man generation and the British New Wave, the project conducts several comparative analyses of ‘rebellious’ male actors through four main case studies (Richard Burton, Patrick McGoohan, Dirk Bogarde and Terence Stamp). The thesis aims to discover how gendered forms of 1960s transgression are rehearsed through specific onscreen performances and star personae. It charts how certain male actors came to prominence in unconventional screen roles in British cinema of the ‘long 1960s’ and how their performances and star images helped construct discourses around new kinds of deviant masculinity. Key actors have been identified as ‘zeitgeist icon’ stars (Shingler, 2012:150; Gaffney and Holmes, 2007:1) who embody the tensions in British culture of the time and articulate changes in codes of masculinity in response to the emergence of the so-called ‘affluent’, ‘permissive society’, its related consumerism, liberal attitudes towards sexuality and an ambivalent countercultural mindset that was marked by a rebellious, anti-authoritarian stance. By juxtaposing selected rebellious male actors from different backgrounds in terms of star images, role repertoires and performance styles in key films, this PhD presents a critical interrogation of the relationship between British cinema and codes of masculinity during the ‘long 1960s’ that endeavours to question and deconstruct clichéd narratives about the affluent, permissive society, Swinging London and the counterculture. From this analysis, which showcases an evolution of male screen acting styles towards more non-verbal, physical modes of acting, the thesis argues that it is possible to consider acting styles as periodised and as embodying broader sociocultural transformations of the era.
Research Institute