Blu-ray Review: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

19 Mar

Choose factories. Choose the North of England. Choose abortion, sex and extra-marital affairs. Choose kitchen sinks. Choose Saturday Night and Sunday Morning on Blu-ray, and take a trip back to the time when the British film industry received a kick up the Middle Classes, in style.

Tired of the stiff upper lipped view of British life so prominent in the early part of the 20th Century, young directors such as Tony Richardson and Karl Reisz decided that things needed to change.

The late 1950s had seen a quiet explosion in the film movement known as Free Cinema, documentaries that moved outside the cosy living rooms of suburbia and into the streets of the inner city. Youth culture, in all its drinking, swearing, fun loving glory was the subject of many of these films, the only problem being that not many people were watching them.

Then, in 1960 it all changed. Albert Finney took on a job in a factory in Northampton and a nation swooned, both men and women seeing something in this bristling, rebellious character that would go on to make him a poster boy for a generation.

Based on the novel by Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning tells the story of Arthur Seaton (Finney), a factory worker who longs for the whistle blowing and another trip to the pub with his mates. A fling with a married woman, Brenda (Rachel Roberts), does nothing to cramp Arthur’s style, his burgeoning relationship with pretty young Doreen (Shirley Anne Field) only becoming a problem when Brenda announces she’s pregnant.

Though something of a shock to the cinema-going public of the 1960s, Saturday Night still packs a punch today. Arthur Seaton is a timeless character, his rallying call of “Don’t let the bastards grind you down” just as apt in minimum wage Britain as it ever was.

Shot in black and white, each scene reeks of its surroundings: smell the oil in the factory; breathe in Arthur’s aftershave as he heads out to the local hostelry; choke on the heavy fug of cigarette smoke that hangs in the air around the bar.

This is a world familiar to many of its audience in a film that refused to talk down to them in its depiction of a working class society. Poor doesn’t equal stupid here and actions have consequences, Arthur’s carefree attitude coming back to haunt him as Brenda’s pregnancy makes him stop and think about where he’s going.

Albert Finney’s Arthur is a raw creation from an actor still honing his talent. Finney looks and sounds the part: while he’s undoubtedly good looking, he’s no pretty boy simply putting on an accent. There’s real bitterness underneath that Brylcreemed hair and smart suit that it’s hard not to feel compassion for at times.

Rachel Roberts is another revelation, the look of resignation on her face as she realises her attempts to escape from a stagnant relationship are going wrong worth a thousand words.

Director Reisz, fresh from his experiments in Free Cinema along with producer Tony Richardson, helped invent a new genre, “social realism”, but didn’t forget to create a powerful and energetic film along the way. Sillitoe’s script is brought to life by Reisz and cinematographer Freddie Francis, both allowing its bleak backdrop to come to the fore in many scenes.

A critical film in the history of British cinema, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is also something of a historical document, a snapshot of post-war Britain where the young were starting to come into their own. It’s also a gripping drama that saw Albert Finney at his peak, and it’s worth watching for that alone.

Blu-ray Special features

Alongside the fine commentary track, Robert Murphy offering an intelligent view on the film that avoids being dry while writer Alan Sillitoe and cinematographer Freddie Francis chip in, the most interesting extra here is the Free Cinema documentary We Are the Lambeth Boys (1959).

Almost a prequel to Saturday Night, both in terms of director Karl Reisz’s involvement and in the lifestyles of the film’s “stars”, Lambeth Boys is a closer look at the 1960s teenager and is a great companion piece to the main feature.

Other extras include a new filmed interview with Shirley Anne Field, an audio interview with Albert Finneyand an illustrated booklet containing essays and biographies.

Blu-ray Specifications

  • Release date: 23 March
  • RRP: DVD £17.99 / cat. no. BFIVD784 / Blu-ray £22.99 / cat. no. BFIB1004
  • Duration: 89 minutes
  • Cert: PG
  • Original aspect ratio 1.66:1
  • Optional subtitles for the hearing-impaired
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