Monday, March 27, 2017

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

Albert Finney as Arthur.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is one of the many working-class social dramas that proliferated throughout British cinema during the late 1950s and the 1960s. These films were inspired, in part, by the "angry young men" genre that began with John Osborne's 1956 stage play Look Back in Anger. That play was adapted for the screen by Tony Richardson, with Richard Burton in the lead role, in 1959. The following year, Richardson produced Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which earned numerous awards and made a star of Albert Finney.

Rachel Roberts with Finney.
Finney plays Arthur Seaton, a young factory worker in Nottingham, who escapes his mundane existence by routinely getting drunk on the weekends and sleeping with a married woman named Brenda (Rachel Roberts). Arthur scoffs at colleagues who try to further their careers and admires co-workers who "know how to spend money like me." He still lives with his parents and occasionally goes fishing with his cousin. He also takes delight in making life miserable for a straight-laced neighbor (to the point of shooting her in the bum with a BB rifle).

Doreen and Arthur flirt.
Two events occur that nudge Arthur off the road to nowhere. First, Brenda gets pregnant--which is a serious problem considering she and her husband (who have a son) have not engaged in sexual activity for several months. Around the same time, Arthur meets an attractive young woman named Doreen, who also works in a factory.

Screenwriter Alan Sillitoe, who adapted his own novel, creates a memorable--if not always likable--character in Arthur. His young protagonist is filled with self-importance and considers himself something of a rebel without a cause. Yet, he's not quite the uncaring, fun-loving bloke he thinks he is. He gives part of every paycheck to his Mum to cover lodging and food. He genuinely cares about Brenda, although he certainly doesn't love her. And, in a rare moment of true reflection, he admits: "God knows what I am."

Rachel Roberts as Brenda.
It's easy to see why Albert Finney's energetic performance catapulted him to fame. However, Rachel Roberts dominates much of the film. She hits all the right notes as the carefree Brenda who cavorts with Arthur when her husband and son are away. That sets the stage for a remarkable transformation when her life is turned upside down with the unexpected pregnancy. Crestfallen and looking as if the weight of the world is upon her, Brenda confesses to a befuddled Arthur that her best course of action is to tell the truth to her husband and hope for the best. It's a remarkable scene and no doubt helped secure her the 1960 Best Actress Award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning also won as Best Picture that year. I can see how its realism, social criticism, and stark black-and-white world (the cinematographer was the great Freddie Francis) seemed like a breath of fresh air. Personally, while I found it a worthwhile viewing, I prefer other "angry young man" pictures such as Room at the Top (1959) and another one based on an Alan Sillitoe work, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962). I also have a soft spot for the more cynical British satires of the 1960s, such as Georgy Girl (1966), Nothing But the Best (1964), and I'll Never Forget What's'isname (1967).

By the way, be forewarned some of these films end rather abruptly by conventional standards.


  1. I go through phases with that stage of British realism as to whether I feel pity or disdain for the characters. Nonetheless, I am always impressed with the writing and performances.

  2. I never really cared much for those "angry young men" films, but I can see how Albert Finney's star was launched after this performance. I'm reminded now of something my friend told me a while back....she was watching Richard Burton in "Look Back in Anger" ( another one of those films ) and thought it was depressing as she watched a little more...and a little more...and then told me the whole plot on the phone. Those British films are just too addictive!

  3. I'm not very familiar with the "angry young men" films, but I'd really like to see Albert Finney in this early role.

    I'm always learning from you, Rick. I ought to start paying you tuition!

  4. I'd include in those "angry young men" movies the one that first attracted me to the genre - "This Sporting Life," which starred Richard Harris and Roberts, and earned them Best Actor and Actress nominations (and should have gotten a Best Picture nomination as well).

    If you expand the genre from "angry young man" to "kitchen sink", you can include two more movies of the era: "Seance on a Wet Afternoon" with Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough, and "The Mark," with Stuart Whitman (in his Oscar-nominated performance). Ah, a terrific era for British movies, in glorious black-and-white!