Dir: Karel Reisz, 1960
Cinema in the fifties and sixties, was a boon of working class films.
Viewed by the hierarchy as a two fingered salute to the establishment, films that depicted a very real observation of working class life were, unflatteringly, dubbed “kitchen sink dramas”.
Trawling through the influx of these “social” movies, one always stands head and shoulders above them all; Karel Reisz’s Saturday Night And Sunday Morning.
Based on the book by Alan Sillitoe, Reisz’s movie is the epitome of the “angry young man” character, found in many works before and since.
Arthur Seaton (Albert Finney) is a manual labourer working in the Raleigh factory in Nottingham.
Angry at the way he’s expected to live his life, Seaton spends his time down the local and in the Working Men’s Clubs.
A handsome man, Seaton has an eye for the ladies and is knocking on with his co-worker’s wife, Brenda, as well as his regular girlfriend, Doreen.
However, his cavalier attitude and rebellious streak, soon land him in bother and give him an opportunity to assess his future.
Saturday Night And Sunday Morning is a rarity in kitchen sink drama, as it doesn’t dwell on negativity and portray working class life as odious.
Pioneer directors in the field, such as Ken Loach and Tony Richardson, all come from middle class backgrounds, so tend to depict things as malodorous.
That’s not to say that A Taste Of Honey or Poor Cow aren’t good films, and certainly highlight a more depressing side of life. Here, Reisz not so much as champions the proliteriate way of living but, rather, shows it with positivity.
But, the film isn’t about the working class, it’s about Arthur Seaton, who just happens to fit into that level of society. Both the book and the film, deal with maturing and accepting one’s responsibilities. Seaton isn’t so much as angry or filled with rage, he’s just selfish and defiant of what is expected of him.
Albert Finney is amazing in the lead role, playing the cocky factory worker who’s determined to look after number one and have some fun while he’s at it. This has got to be Finney’s best performance in anything he’s ever done. Deftly bringing the character to life, the award winning actor is able to make him believable, but dislikeable which, in turn, is juxtaposed by also being lovable. A true anti-hero.
Often, unfairly, compared to John Osborne’s Look Back In Anger, Sillitoe’s story isn’t railing against anything. Whereas Osborne’s Jimmy Porter is angry and spiteful at the world at large and, specifically, the middle classes, Arthur Seaton is, merely, immature and callous.
However, Arthur is diluted in this adaptation. In the novel, he’s a brawler and as well as seeing Brenda and Doreen, he’s also got Brenda’s sister, Winnie, on the side. Winnie is entirely removed from the film, not even being mentioned by name. The character doesn’t exist. But, Reisz is still able to capture the essence of Seaton, chuntering such lines as; “what I’m out for is a good time. The rest is propaganda” and “whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not!”. We can’t forget the line that espouses the Angry Young Men of the fifties and the sixties; “don’t let the bastard’s grind you down”.
Unfortunately, to appease the British film censors, much of the novel’s Nottinghamshire dialect has been toned down and what made the story so accessible is now lost in translation.
Written in a colloquial style, Sillitoe’s book is littered with “bleddy’s” and “bogger’s” which have, sadly, been removed at the insistence of head censor, John Trevelyan. The Nottinghamshire feel that runs through the book is absent, and now appears as any other, run of the mill, unidentified town or city.
Despite being filmed nearly sixty years ago, the controversial themes are still as strong and have an impressive impact. Again, like the dialect, several scenes were removed or drastically altered by the UK censorship body. Brenda’s unwanted pregnancy by Arthur, and the subsequent illegal abortion method by sitting in a hot bath and drinking vodka, is much lessened for the film, but the power to shock is retained and just as relevant, now, as it was back when the book was first published and the adaptation filmed.
Although Saturday Night And Sunday Morning received an ‘X’ certificate on it’s release, the home video issues now sit with a comfortable ‘PG’ rating. In terms of what is shown, things are very mild but, that doesn’t stop the story from being hard hitting and a masterpiece of British cinema.
The best of the kitchen sink dramas, Sillitoe’s adaptation of his own novel is a brilliant example of what British cinema can achieve and perfectly out does anything that our friends across the pond have to offer.