“Mam called me barmy when I told her I fell of a gasometer for a bet. But I’m not barmy, I’m a fighting pit prop that wants a pint of beer, that’s me. But if any knowing bastard says that’s me I’ll tell them I’m a dynamite dealer waiting to blow the factory to kingdom come. I’m me and nobody else. Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not because they don’t know a bloody thing about me! God knows what I am.”
‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’, directed by Karel Reisz in 1960, is a British drama focusing on the love life of a factory machinist in Nottingham. Albert Finney plays Arthur Seaton, a working class man in his twenties, living with his parents, who is having an affair with a married woman called Brenda, played by Rachel Roberts. He meets another girl called Doreen, played by Shirley Anne Field, with whom he begins a relationship, maintaining a sexual relationship with Brenda. Brenda becomes pregnant and she and Seaton explore the possibility of an abortion. When Brenda’s husband finds out about the affair, he engages a pair of soldiers to beat Seaton up, after which he decides to stick to Doreen for as long as his fidelity will last. It’s a grim, grimy movie, the darkness permeates the whole picture from the depressing background of industrial Nottingham to the brilliantly dour performance of Finney and the unpleasant Seaton. The film is wilfully unglamorous, the polar opposite of the conventional movies being produced by Hollywood. It feels very much like a British version of Italian neorealism, but lacks the rawness of performance and the documentary textures. There is a staginess to this film, despite the constant feeling of being outdoors even when inside, that oddly feels very British. Where the film really packs a punch, however, is in its matter-of-fact approach to taboo issues such as sexual affairs, marital infidelity and abortion. The power of the movie is not only locating these social issues in a setting that is rarely seen on screen, but the directness with which the writer and director does so.
Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s gritty and the central character is hard to like, but it’s a ground-breaking film that challenges. Watch in a double bill, maybe with ‘The Match Factory Girl’ for a similar tone of story but relocated to Helsinki.