Jo, a seventeen year old working class girl, lives with her ne'er-do-well mother Helen in Salford on the Northwestern coast of England. Jo plays sport with a group of girls in the schoolyard but is easily frustrated. In the washroom she rebuffs a classmate, who asks her to go dancing. Jo says she and her mother may have to move. The girl says she and her mother are like a bunch of traveling gypsies. Jo arrives home to find the landlady wants the rent. Her mother seems nonplussed, splayed out on the bed, but when the landlady leaves the two band together to pack their few belongings and escape out the window. They catch a bus to their new flat on the outskirts of town. The opening credits roll with schoolchildren singing "the big ship sails on the alley, alley oh." Jo runs into a man who fancies her. Later, with her mother, Jo complains that she will have to share a bed with her and longs for the day when she has a room of her own. Helen goes out dancing with Peter and leaves Jo alone. Jo sulks and embarrasses Helen when Peter comes to pick her up. Peter is younger than Helen and Jo remarks on their age difference. Helen and Peter go dancing, and when she comes back she finds Jo still at home sulking. The two retire for the evening exchanging soft insults (where it is apparent that the mother and daughter have for a long time lived a life of transience). The next morning Jo makes herself a cup of tea and gets ready for her last day at school and lands a job working at a shoe store. Helen while still in bed and with a cold, discovers a collection of drawings Jo has made. Helen seems interested in Jo's work, but Jo is taken aback and suspicious of her mother's sudden interest in her. At school (her last day), Jo listens to her teacher drone on from a textbook, and to the pleasure of her classmates imitates the teacher in a humorous pantomime. The teacher looks up from her book and throws a piece of chalk at Jo. The teacher punishes Jo by making her write lines. After school, Jo runs downs the steps, trips, and bruises her knee. She takes a leisurely limp-walk along the port on her way home and runs into a man who had eyed her in front of her flat. He says his name is Jimmy and that is a ship's cook and lets her board so he can mend her wound. Jo obliges him, and he bandages her knee (while she places a chef's hat on his head). Helen, meanwhile is dancing the night away again with Peter. Back on the ship, Jo and Jimmy have an instant physical attraction and the two playfully chase each other on the deck of the ship at night. They escape the captain's notice, who appears drunk. The two kiss and the scene cuts to a starlit sky that turns out to be the ballroom where Helen and Peter are dancing. Peter asks Helen to live with him but Helen coyly resists and says she is old enough to be his mother. "You've definitely liberated something in me, and it's not maternal instincts either." Back on the ship with Jimmy, Jo leaves smitten and happy, and Helen wonders where she has been. The next day after work, Jimmy waits for Jo and the two walk along the quay. Jo asks if he is from Africa, and he says no,"I'm from Liverpool." The two kiss, and Jo tells him "I love ya because you're daft." The two skip away and Jo finds her mother at home in the bathtub where she informs Jo that she's marrying Peter. Jo is horrified by this news and reminds Helen that she is no longer a young woman. "You look a well-preserved sixty," she says. Helen informs her that she is going away for a few days and is leaving Jo alone in the flat. Jo protests and insists that she is going with her mother. Jo meets Jimmy again, and the two sit by a canal and Jo plays with his toy die-cast car. Jo goes back home and joins her mother on her trip with Peter. She dresses up for the occasion, and Peter is not happy that Jo is joining them. Hoping that a gift of chocolates will keep Jo at home, Jo accepts the gift but says she will not be bought off so easily. Jo remarks on his glass eye (apparently Peter lost an eye in the war). They squeeze into the car, with two other ladies. Peter shows Helen a photograph of the house he intends to buy for her (insinuating that Jo will not be part of the "new" family.) The group arrive at the seaside and visit the fair, replete with mirrors, cotton candy, a theater act, and all sorts of games. Jo eats all of the candy. Jo rails Peter for wanting to marry her mother, and he demands that Jo go home. Helen tells Jo to leave and gives her money for the bus fare home. Back in Salford, Jo meets Jimmy, who tells her he has to leave because his ship is leaving port. Jo says "Me heart's broke" but they make love underneath the dock. Jimmy promises he will return to see her, but Jo says she knows he won't. The next day Jo watches as Jimmy's ship sails away. Back at the flat, Helen comes back from her trip with Peter and shows Jo a mink scarf that he gave her and Jo remarks, "I bet someone's missing their cat." Helen announces that the two were married. Helen discovers Jimmy's ring hanging from her neck and Jo admits that she met a man, but she doesn't tell Helen any more details. Helen tells her to throw it away in the ashcan. Jo catches a cold and Helen becomes maternal just enough to tell Jo a story about her biological father. She insists that he was a half-wit, but she loved him for an afternoon. Helen is slow to give Jo more details, but Helen finally reveals that Jo's father was Helen's first time with a man and that Jo has his eyes. After Helen tells the story, she leaves with Peter. Jo intends to rent a room and move out. She meets a young slightly effeminate man at the shoe store and sells him a pair of shoes. She moves into a large dusty flat, and later at a parade, meets Geoffrey, the guy she sold the shoes. Geoffrey and Jo go to the fair and ride bumper cars. Jo wins a goldfish. After the evening, Geoffrey walks Jo home. She notices Geoffrey lingering in the courtyard and asks him if he has a home. Through a series of questioning, Jo realizes that Geoffrey was thrown out of his apartment because he was seen with another man in his bedroom. Jo invites Geoffrey to move in with her exclaiming "you're just like a big sister to me." Geoffrey agrees to help Jo tidy up the place. The two form a friendship. Geoffrey is a textile design student. He washes the windows, makes Jo dinners, and paints a mural portrait of Jo as a flapper. When Geoffrey goes to the shoe store to look for Jo, he learns that she had a half-day and he finds her by the docks. She confesses that she is pregnant, and Geoffrey asks her what she will buy for the baby. Geoffrey tries to court Jo, but Jo rejects his advances. He then proposes to her, but Jo says that she is not "marrying anybody." Visiting a cave, Jo confesses to Geoffrey that the father is a "dark prince," alluding to the fact that Jimmy is a black man. Back at their flat, it is obvious that Geoffrey wants to care for Jo and gives her a book on motherhood. Jo exclaims "I hate motherhood." It is apparent that Jo feels stifled by Geoffrey, and she leaves the apartment and walks along a dirty canal where children are playing. Geoffrey and Jo stand a talk by the canal, Jo abruptly announces that the baby kicked her. Later Geoffrey goes to a maternity clinic and the nurse gives him a baby doll and some pamphlets on pregnancy. The pregnant mothers are shocked that a male is in the waiting room and eye Geoffrey with suspicion. Geoffrey meets Jo again by the canal, and Jo observes that a dirty child who is playing needs a mother to clean him. Geoffrey shows Jo her the baby doll and Jo throws it to the ground. Geoffrey holds Jo's hands, and Jo mention that he mother was not affectionate with her. Jo tells Geoffrey what she knows about her father, that he was simple and probably "from the land of the daft." Jo says that her mother said that she got her eyes from her father. Geoffrey advises Jo not to believe everything Helen says about her father. Jo concedes that Helen would probably not have courted a simpleton. Geoffrey visits Helen at her new home. Helen does not agree to help Jo. But later Helen has a drunken Peter drive her to Jo's flat. Helen gives Jo money. Jo and Helen fight. When Geoffrey tries to stop them Helen says "Oh shut up we enjoy it." Peter arrives and eats some of the food Geoffrey had prepared for tea. Peter is obviously drunk and Geoffrey escorts him back to his car. Helen offers Jo a cigarette, and Jo accepts it and says she will use it later. Helen offers Jo the opportunity to live with her and Peter. Peter overhears and says he is not having Jo live with them. Helen asks if it is OK if she stays with her to take care of her while she is pregnant. Jo declines. Helen and Geoffrey finally leave. On Guy Fawke's day the children make an effigy in the square and Geoffrey makes an attractive place setting for tea and cake. Helen arrives unexpectedly with a bird cage and a small suitcase. Her arrival breaks down any chance that Geoffrey and Jo had to be together. Helen insinuates that Geoffrey move out. Geoffrey gets the message, and while Jo sleeps, he packs up his things and leaves but leaves a note for Jo. When Jo wakes up, she tells Helen who the father is and Helen is shocked to discover he is a black man. "My baby may be black," she says. " Helen says, "You don't mean that sailor was a black man ... Oh my God I think I need a drink." Meanwhile Geoffrey stands with the children who continues to chant rhymes for Guy Fawkes Day. He hides when he sees Helen, who has gone to the store to buy liquor. Jo and Geoffrey meet eyes, and for one second it is meant to suggest that they may end up together, but Helen returns with the liquor and the fantasy is squashed. The sound of children singing "the big ship sails on the alley, alley oh" is heard.
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Best part of story, including ending:
I like the fact this movie was one of the first to depict an openly homosexual character.
Best scene in story:
Jo comes home and Helen, whiling taking a bath, tells her she is getting married. I liked this scene because it reveals the strained intimacy between the two women. I liked how it showed Helen and Jo had lived together for so long, and while they were used to each other's physical presence, Jo is disappointed that Helen was never a mother to her.
Opinion about the main character:
I liked Jo's independent spirit. I wonder if Jimmy will return and become a father for Jo's baby, and maybe Geoffrey will become the gay uncle!