A product of the late ’50s/early ’60s “British New Wave” and the Free Cinema movement, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a textbook example of the “Angry Young Man” genre, which also includes such films as Look Back in Anger, This Sporting Life, and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. The common thread among these works is a rebellion against the constraints of post-war life in Britain.
The first film directed by Karel Reisz (Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment, The French Lieutenant’s Woman), it was produced by Tony Richardson, from a screenplay by working class author Alan Sillitoe, based on his novel. In a breakthrough performance, Albert Finney plays Arthur Seaton, a charming rogue – make that complete bastard – in a North Country town who works a soul-destroying factory job all week, clashes with the shop foreman (“It’s not the first time that bastard’s called me a red…Not that I wouldn’t vote communist if I thought it would get rid of blokes like him.”), then gets his kicks when the whistle blows. “I’m out for a good time,” he proclaims, “All the rest is propaganda!”
These kicks include countless pints of brown ale and having an affair with the wife of a clueless co-worker. Rachel Roberts gives a fine performance as Arthur’s married shack-up who finds herself pregnant thanks to Arthur’s (and her own) carelessness.
The lovely Shirley Ann Field (Alfie, Beat Girl) plays Doreen, the younger, prettier girl who catches Arthur’s fancy. Also in the cast is comic actor Norman Rossington, probably best known for his role as the Beatles’ manager in A Hard Day’s Night, as Bert, Arthur’s best friend.
While on the surface, the story concerns the end of Arthur’s carefree days of beery womanizing, it is really about the lack of opportunities in post-war British working class life and the death of hope.
After being on the receiving end of a brutal beatdown by a gang of soldiers, led the brother of the man he’s been cuckolding (“I had me bit of fun. It’s not the first time I’ve been in a losing fight, won’t be the last either I suppose.”), Arthur ends up settling down with Doreen.
Even if Arthur doesn’t necessarily grow any wiser over the course of the film, Finney’s magnetic performance more than makes up for his character’s lack of growth.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is available on DVD from MGM Home Video.
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