powered by AFI
Arthur Seaton is a hard-working factory worker in Nottingham whose belligerent attitude toward authority - "Don't let the bastards grind you down" - and anger at his co-workers's sheep-like acceptance of their fate in life nags at him constantly, even when he's off work with his mates and carousing at bars. Yet, despite his rebellious nature, Arthur is not a political animal or even able to formulate a plan to escape the crushing conformity that faces him. "What I want is a good time. The remainder is all propaganda," he professes and he pours his aggression into drinking contests at the local pub and a deceitful affair with Brenda, his best friend's wife. Arthur's arrogant disregard for the consequences of his actions, however, catch up with him when Brenda becomes pregnant and he tries to arrange an abortion for her. At the same time, he finds himself smitten with Doreen, a seemingly indifferent young woman whose alluring beauty masks her essential shallowness and desire for bourgeois respectability.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) arrived at the midpoint of the "Angry Young Man" trend in British cinema, which originally began as a literary movement with the publication of John Osborne's Look Back in Anger in 1956. The film was based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Alan Sillitoe who grew up in the working class suburb of Nottingham and whose main character, Arthur Seaton, worked in the Raleigh factory just like his father did. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was preceded by film adaptations of Look Back in Anger (1958) and John Braine's Room at the Top (1959) and followed by movie versions of Stan Barstow's A Kind of Loving (1962), Sillitoe's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962), and David Storey's This Sporting Life (1963), among many others. Like most of the films in the "Angry Young Man" canon, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was a reaction to the grim realities of post-war Britain where most working class families grew up in row house developments in industrial city suburbs and mill towns, the only places that offered employment opportunities for many. The film, which marked the feature film debut of Karel Reisz, was also a natural outgrowth of the "Free Cinema" movement which flourished between 1956-59 and was an attempt to escape the confines of commercial cinema and to engage the viewer in realistic, documentary-like depictions of life that addressed social issues filtered through artistic personal expression.
The "Free Cinema" group was spearheaded by Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz and Lorenza Mazzetti who first presented a series of short films at the National Film Theatre in 1956 which eventually led to the beginnings of the British 'New Wave' of the late fifties. Reisz had first collaborated with Tony Richardson on the short Momma Don't Allow (1955) about a North London jazz club but his solo effort, We Are the Lambeth Boys (1958), more accurately expressed the spirit of the whole movement in its candid depiction of a South London youth club.
After Tony Richardson made his successful feature debut with the film version of Look Back in Anger, he was offered Saturday Night and Sunday Morning but chose instead to serve as the producer and offered the film to Reisz. In preparation for the movie, Reisz took a small film crew to the highly industrial area of Nottingham to get a feel for the people and the region and ended up shooting a documentary about a welfare center for miners. It proved to be an excellent trial run for his film debut and is the main reason Saturday Night and Sunday Morning has such an authentic feel for its locale and residents. The film shoot lasted six weeks and benefited from the evocative black and white cinematography of Freddie Francis (Oscar®-winner for Best Cinematography on Sons and Lovers, 1960).
In an interview, Francis recalled, "On Saturday Night and Sunday Morning I know I was being forced onto Karel. I met Karel and we got on pretty well together. And I said, "Karel, now I know what you're worried about. You think I'm going to make this look like an M-G-M musical. But you don't have to worry at all - I'll do it just as you wish. And once we started shooting and Karel saw that I was not interfering, that I was only prepared to help and to make life easier for him, we became great friends. And whenever I've been available, I've done Karel's movies since then [Night Must Fall, 1964, The French Lieutenant's Woman, 1981]. Karel involved me the same way as Jack Clayton does; they involve me on the movie."
It was Albert Finney, in his first major film role, however, that made the strongest impression on critics and viewers when Saturday Night and Sunday Morning went into release. His restless, testosterone-fueled performance brilliantly captured Arthur Seaton's "rebel without a cause" factory worker and won him the BAFTA Film Award for "Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles" in England. It immediately led to his casting as Tom Jones in Tony Richardson's 1963 film adaptation which subsequently garnered a Best Actor Oscar® nomination for him, the first of five, though he has yet to win an Academy Award.
Matching Finney in dramatic range and power is Rachel Roberts as the hapless Brenda. Going from naive romantic infatuation to fear and anger at her abandonment by Arthur and eventually pity for her emotionally immature lover, she is never less than superb and won the BAFTA Film Award for "Best British Actress." She would go on to further critical acclaim for her performances in This Sporting Life, Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Yanks (1979). In the less demanding role of Doreen, Shirley Anne Field is impressive as the superficial beauty who ensnares the cocky Arthur and supporting players Hylda Baker and Norman Rossington stand out, respectively, as Arthur's world-weary Aunt Ada and Bert, Arthur's mild-mannered factory pal and husband of Brenda. In addition to the cast, film editor and director-to-be Seth Holt (Station Six-Sahara, 1962) gives the film a tense, driving rhythm and John Dankworth's music score provides the appropriate downbeat mood.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is still often regarded as one of the most important British films of the early sixties, one that captured the mood of the times and displayed a new frankness toward sex on the screen (certain theatres in England refused to exhibit the film when it was first released). Some film scholars, however, feel that the film is outdated and, as noted by David Thomson, "could now pass as parody." Pauline Kael also complained that it was "overdirected...Everything is held in check; every punch is called and then pulled." Still, the general consensus, expressed by The Oxford Companion to Film, is that Saturday Night and Sunday Morning "brought a freshness of approach to the British cinema" and "Reisz's sympathetic direction finely evoked the industrial setting and its effect on human relations."
Reisz, unfortunately, never quite lived up to the promise of his early career or enjoyed a critical success equal to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning but his filmography is a varied and eclectic offering with some hits (Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment , The French Lieutenant's Woman ), some failures (Night Must Fall , Everybody Wins ) and some overlooked gems (Who'll Stop the Rain , Sweet Dreams ).
Producer: Tony Richardson, Harry Saltzman
Director: Karel Reisz
Screenplay: Alan Sillitoe
Cinematography: Freddie Francis
Film Editing: Seth Holt
Art Direction: Ted Marshall
Music: John Dankworth
Cast: Albert Finney (Arthur Seaton), Shirley Anne Field (Doreen), Rachel Roberts (Brenda), Hylda Baker (Aunt Ada), Norman Rossington (Bert), Bryan Pringle (Jack).
BW-89m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford