Arthur Seaton is a factory worker at Raleigh bicycles in Nottingham. Angry and headstrong, Seaton is convinced the middle-aged have been ground down by the system and is determined not to follow them. After an evening out of hard drinking, Seaton spends the night with Brenda, the wife of his straight-laced colleague Jack. Next day Seaton meets his Aunt Ada and cousin Bert for a lunchtime drink. An attractive girl called Doreen catches his eye. Seaton arranges a date at the cinema. Later whilst fishing, Bert warns Seaton about his dangerous affair with Brenda.
Leaving for work, Seaton and his father share their dislike of “Ma” Bull, a nosey neighbourhood rumour monger. At work Seaton finds a dead rat, which he hides in his shirt and later places on a woman’s bench as a practical joke. In a boastful conversation with Jack, Seaton reveals he used his dad’s vote in the recent election. Jack has been told to work nights.
Seaton and Brenda worry Jack may suspect their affair. Seaton has a drink with Jack and learns Jack’s brother, a squaddie with a penchant for beating up blokes who misbehave, is about to visit. Later Seaton’s cinema date with Doreen is soured by a frosty reception from her mother when he visits her family home. Flush with wages, Seaton takes his little cousin Bill to the sweet shop, where he antagonises Ma Bull. Later Seaton and Bert visit Doreen and her sister Betty but their dancing is interrupted by the girls’ disapproving mother. An unhappy Seaton meets Brenda who reveals she is pregnant. He persuades Brenda to visit his Aunt Ada to try and end the pregnancy.
Seaton and Bert witness a drunk breaking the window of the funeral directors. The man is held by a gang of do-gooders headed by Ma Bull until the police arrive. Seaton and Bert encourage the man to make a run for it. Next day an angry Seaton fires an air gun pellet at Ma Bull. Seeking an apology, Ma Bull and her timid husband try to confront Seaton. She returns with a constable but Seaton’s father covers for his son.
Aunt Ada’s abortion methods – sitting in a hot bath and downing a pint of gin – have failed. Brenda is concerned Seaton has been seen with another girl. Seaton denies this and offers to pay for Brenda to end the pregnancy by other means.
Seaton takes Doreen to the fair where they are observed by a jealous Brenda. Jack is there too with his squaddie brother. Managing to get Seaton alone, Brenda reveals she is keeping the child. When the two are seen together on a ride, Jack sends his brother and another squaddie after Seaton. Jack angrily rebukes his wife. Seaton is beaten up by the squaddies.
Seaton lies badly beaten in bed having told his mother he fell off a gasometer for a bet. He tells Doreen he was knocked down by a horse and cart. Doreen suspects otherwise and finally learns the truth. After reconciling things with Jack, Seaton concentrates on a legitimate relationship with Doreen.
Karel Reisz’s classic British New Wave film caused outrage when originally released in 1960. From the outset the film signals its intentions as Arthur Seaton outlines his view of the world: “…What I’m out for is a good time. All the rest is propaganda.”
Reisz was determined to show the working class on screen with some sensitivity rather than the ‘salt of the earth’, almost music hall stereotypes of the past. Much of the film’s subject matter was considered daring for the time. An extramarital affair and attempts at abortion show the cinema is growing up and has a newfound honesty. There was much discussion with the censor as to how graphic the bedroom scenes should be and to what extent the realistic language should be toned down. Fifty years on, both these aspects of the film seem tame, yet the story is still striking and holds up well.
Albert Finney shines in the lead role and there are first rate performances from Shirley Anne Field as Doreen and Rachel Roberts as Brenda. Hylda Baker is very effective in a rare straight role. Bryan Pringle is suitably dour as Jack. Norman Rossington adds a dash of humour as Seaton’s cousin Bert. Edna Morris is excellent as the battleaxe Ma Bull. There is also a fleeting appearance from an uncredited Peter Sallis.
The excellent cinematography by Freddie Francis, depicts the beauty and the grime of a working town. The contrast of the terraced housing and the new estate, which provides the backdrop in the final scene, underpins Seaton’s determination not to be ground down. Sometimes Francis had moments of serendipity. A sequence just after the drunk is arrested shows Seaton and Bert walking up a hill cursing Ma Bull and almost on cue a train rattles past in the distance. The film is scored by jazz great John Dankworth, producing a surprisingly upbeat feel.
Saturday Night Night And Sunday Morning was an exponent of social-realist cinema which had begun with Room At The Top and continued with films such as A Taste Of Honey, A Kind Of Loving and The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner. The legacy of Saturday Night Night And Sunday Morning can be seen in the Michael Caine vehicle Alfie which explored similar themes. Its depiction of community was mirrored in the early years of Coronation Street with Ma Bull almost a prototype Ena Sharples.
ExtrasCommentaryEschewing the traditional approach to DVD commentary, this is an audio documentary which puts the film in context and introduces relevant contributions from the writer Alan Sillitoe and cameraman Freddie Francis. The commentary is very informative and benefits from its more structured approach. Amongst the gems of trivia is the revelation the film’s success essentially funded the purchase of the James Bond novels and so indirectly instigated the Bond film franchise.
Albert Finney Interview (4 minutes)Extracts from Finney’s 1982 NFT interview with Michael Billington. A rather paltry offering given Finney’s top billing.
Shirley Anne Field interview (10 minutes)An enjoyable up to date interview with the film’s leading lady. At the time Shirley Anne Field was the most experienced film actress in the cast.
We Are The Lambeth Boys (48 minutes)A classic documentary made by Karel Reisz for Ford’s Look At Britain series. This is a fascinating insight into the lives of the members of Alford House youth club in Kennington, South London. It explores the hopes and dreams of the youngsters through their social interaction and their day jobs as well as examining their political attitudes and opinions. Like the main feature, the documentary has a jaunty musical score by John Dankworth.
All in all a very good DVD. The film transfer is crisp and clean. The extras do justice to the seminal nature of the main feature, although a fresh interview with Albert Finney would have enhanced the disc somewhat.