What Is a "Kitchen Sink Drama"? (Definition and Examples)

Kitchen Sink Drama
'A Taste of Honey'Credit: Woodfall Film Productions
This realistic drama has everything—including the kitchen sink. 

World cinema has had many movements over the last century. We saw French New Wave and German Expressionism, but one that often gets overlooked is the British movement of Kitchen Sink Realism or "the Kitchen Sink drama." It's a complicated, humanist revolution that focused on deep, relatable characters and the strategy of everyday life. And it helped add another layer to the drama genre

Today I want to take you through the kitchen sink drama's definition and examples. We'll look at the origins of the movement and then how you can apply it to your own work and storytelling. 

All right, let's get started. 

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What Is a Kitchen Sink Drama? (Definition and Examples)

In the United Kingdom, there was an expressionist painting by John Bratby which contained an image of a kitchen sink. It was different than Bratby's other paintings, which depicted people who had hard lives and were working-class. The term "Kitchen Sink School" was invented by critic David Sylvester to describe painters who depicted social realist-type scenes of domestic life. As visual art transcended past painting and into film and television, the term evolved as well into its own genre

Kitchen Sink by John BratbyCredit: PCF

Kitchen Sink Drama Definition

The kitchen sink drama (or kitchen sink realism) is a term used to describe a British cultural movement that developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s in theater, art, novels, film, and television.

In this movement, the protagonists are usually "angry young men" disillusioned with modern society. It focuses on social realism and the depiction of domestic situations of working-class people. Tiny houses, cramped apartments, and dimly lit pubs. These stories also tackled social and political issues like abortion, divorce, abuse, economic inequality, and homelessness.

Kitchen Sink Realism 

As mentioned above, realism was the central theme of all this work. Many of the artists who started the movement were painters and other artists with socialist politics. They wanted to show the struggles that art left behind.

As film and TV became more prominent, writers and directors came into the movement. They took those socialist views to the next level, depicting them in cinema and television. Many of those threads and throughlines planted then have extended into storytelling today.  

Kitchen Sink Drama Tropes 

What can you expect from this realistic cinema? Characters will be working-class and struggling with day-to-day life. Their problems will also be a product of that life. The films and plays often explore controversial subjects such as adultery, sex, abortion, and crime.

Kitchen Sink Drama Examples 

When it comes to these movies and TV shows, there are lots of examples. The core of the movement happened in the 1950s and 1960s. They were set in poor industrial areas in the North of England, and used the accents and dialect heard in those regions.

The film It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) was a bit of a precursor, but the real first landmark film was Look Back in Anger (1956). After that, Shelagh Delaney's 1958 play A Taste of Honey was adapted into a film by the same name and is about a teenage girl who has an affair with a Black sailor, gets pregnant, and then moves in with her gay male friend. Obviously, that film hit all the tropes, confronting class, race, gender, and sexual orientation.

While there was a limited time period for those movies and TV shows, the trend of these stories continues with Eastenders and even the original Shameless. And in modern film, movies like Andrea Arnold's incredible Fish Tank still carry the sentiments. And Fish Tank is also important because it is a trope flip of the "angry young man" archetype. 

'Fish Tank'Credit: Curzon Artificial Eye

Summing Up the Kitchen Sink Drama 

I think this is one of the most overlooked subgenres of storytelling. And one that we still see echoes of today. You don't have to be from Northern London to watch and appreciate these films. In fact, it would be interesting to see similar films from other cultures all over the world. We rarely get to look into these lives, so when it is present, it demands our attention. 

Do you have a favorite kitchen sink drama? Let me know in the comments.     

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