Saturday Night And Sunday Morning - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

UK, 1960

Director: Karel Reisz

Production: Woodfall Film Productions; black and white, 35mm; running time: 89 minutes. Released October 1960, London.

Producer: Tony Richardson; executive producer: Harry Saltzman; screenplay: Alan Sillitoe; from his own novel; photography: Freddie Francis; editor: Seth Holt; sound: Peter Handford and Bob Jones; sound editor: Chris Greenham; art director: Ted Marshall; music: John Dankworth.

Cast: Albert Finney ( Arthur Seaton ); Shirley Ann Field ( Doreen Gretton ); Rachel Roberts ( Brenda ); Hylda Baker ( Aunt Ada ); Norman Rossington ( Bert ); Bryan Pringle ( Jack ); Robert Cawdron ( Robboe ); Edna Morris ( Mrs. Bull ); Elsie Wagstaff ( Mrs. Seaton ); Frank Pettitt ( Mr. Seaton ); Avis Bunnage ( Blowzy woman ); Colin Blakely ( Loudmouth ); Irene Richmond ( Doreen's mother ); Louise Dunn ( Betty ); Peter Madden ( Drunken man ); Cameron Hall ( Mr. Bull ); Alister Williamson ( Policeman ); Anne Blake ( Civil defence officer ).

Awards: British Academy Awards for Best British Film, Best British Actress (Roberts) and Most Promising Newcomer (Finney), 1960.



Sillitoe, Alan, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning , in Masterworks of the British Cinema , London and New York, 1974.


Manvell, Roger, New Cinema in Britain , London, 1969.

Durgnat, Raymond, A Mirror for England: British Movies from Austerity to Affluence , London, 1970.

Walker, Alexander, Hollywood, England: The British Film Industry in the 60s , London, 1974.

Armes, Roy, A Critical History of the British Cinema , London and New York, 1978.

Gaston, George, Karel Reisz , Boston, 1980.

Richards, Jeffrey, and Anthony Aldgate, editors, Best of British: Cinema and Society 1930–1970 , Oxford, 1983.

Walker, Alexander, editor, No Bells on Sunday: The Journal of Rachel Roberts , London, 1984.

Cattini, Alberto, Karel Reisz, Firenze, 1985.

Barr, Charles, editor, All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema , London, 1986.

Hill, John, Sex, Class and Realism: British Cinema 1956–63 , London, 1986.


"From 'Free Cinema' to Feature Film: Interview," in Times (London), 19 May 1960.

Films and Filming (London), August 1960.

Barr, Charles, in Granta (Cambridge), 26 November 1960.

Gow, Gordon, in Films and Filming (London), December 1960.

Dyer, Peter John, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1960–61.

"Karel Reisz: Free Czech," in Films and Filming (London), February 1961.

Marcorelles, Louios, "Talking about Acting: Albert Finney and Mary Ure," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1961.

Dunham, Harold, in Films in Review (New York), April 1961.

Sutherland, Elizabeth, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1961.

Kael, Pauline, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1961.

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey, "Movie and Myth," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1963.

Phillips, Gene, "An Interview with Karel Reisz," in Cinema (Beverly Hills), Summer 1968.

Kennedy, H., "Minute Reisz: 6 Earlier Films," in Film Comment (New York), September-October 1981.

"Saturday Night and Sunday Morning Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 October 1982.

Listener (London), 10 November 1983.

Higson, Andrew, "Space, Place, Spectacle," in Screen (London), July-October 1984.

Macnab, Geoffrey, "Northern Exposure," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 7, no. 9, September 1997.

* * *

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning has a reputation as one of British cinema's finest achievements, a status very much dependent upon its accomplished mobilisation of qualities defined as realist by the majority of British film commentators. But the film can also be seen as a melodrama: its dramatic core, like that of romantic fiction, concerns desire and its vicissitudes and the conflict between individual desire and social responsibility, elements which are even occasionally plotted in terms of fate, chance, and coincidence (the unwanted pregnancy; the meeting at the fairground. . . ); clearly, it is a patriarchal melodrama, since its central protagonist is a rampant male who must be "domesticated" by the end of the film—and there are only very occasional moments when patriarchy is resisted (for instance, in the scene when Aunt Ada and Brenda discuss abortion and men, while Arthur is cast outside, reduced to sneaking a look in through the window, an outsider confronted with this all-female world in the domestic space of the home ). On the other hand, the film seems realistic precisely because it rejects the conventional devices of cinematic melodrama: the film is emotionally understated; there is no heavily scored orchestral music track or complex expressionist miseen-scène; and the film's relatively loose narrative development, with little sense of a goal to be achieved, means that chance and coincidence are rarely experienced as such.

The film encapsulates in a particularly forthright way a number of the key social anxieties and fantasies of the period: there is both an angry, anarchic confrontation with the alienation of manual labour (most clearly stated in Arthur's opening soliloquy), and a nostalgic

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
celebration of traditional working-class cultures and communities (the two different bars in the pub in which Arthur has his drinking match at the beginning of the film are very revealing: one contains mainly older people, some of whom are having a communal singsong around the piano; the other contains the brash dynamism of a skiffle band and Arthur's irresponsible boozing, surrounded by much younger people). The film also struggles with middle-class fears about the increasing commodification of leisure, and the apparent growth of mass culture and Americanisation—with television as the major scapegoat, making clear the distinction between cultural enlightenment, or at least active participation, and cultural passivity (note Arthur's conversation with his father when the latter is watching television).

Along with numerous social problem films of the 1950s and 1960s, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning also feeds the moral panic surrounding the emergent youth cultures and the increasing legitimisation of individual self-expression ("What I'm out for is a good time; all the rest is propaganda!" says Arthur at the start of the film), cultures articulated in terms of the generation gap, within both the family, and the wider community (Mrs. Bull, the nosey parker on the corner of the street, becomes the symbol of community as an oppressive institution, restricting Arthur's hedonism). While social mobility is less of an issue here than in other contemporary British films, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning still touches on fantasies of social betterment, the individualising of social issues, and the myth of classlessness (in the final scene of the film Doreen and Arthur look down on a new housing development, the product of 1950s affluence; for Doreen, this represents modernity, the way ahead, the possibility of a better social existence; for Arthur, however, it's a further extension of the city into the countryside where he used to go blackberrying as a child). Looking forward to the 1960s, the film also tentatively explores the discourses of sexual liberation (which are of course revealed as decidedly ambivalent for women).

Like so many of the films of Britain's new wave of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the film was an adaptation, this time from the successful novel of the same name by the working-class writer Alan Sillitoe. Much of the critical acclaim for the film has concerned its depictions of working-class characters as real, psychologically rounded characters. Clearly, by adopting the point-of-view of a factory worker and focussing on his milieu, the film is a powerful achievement in this respect. But the film also constructs another more problematic point-of-view, the sympathetic gaze of a class outside the city, looking from a safe distance at the working class who become heroic victims of the city, desiring to escape to the "better" culture and environment of the onlooker, who is thus placed in a position of superiority. Ironically, from this point-of-view, outside and above the city (sometimes literally, as in the scene where Arthur and Brenda meet to discuss her failed attempts at getting rid of the unwanted baby, or in the brief shots which precede Arthur's second soliloquy and the "Sunday morning" section of the film), the city becomes a beautiful aesthetic object, a spectacular visual image. As the reviewer in the top people's paper, The Times , unwittingly comments, "Mr. Reisz's direction for most of the time beautifully reflects working-class life in the back-streets of Nottingham." In the end, however, it is this conflict in points-of-view and social positions which makes this film such an interesting and important work.

—Andrew Higson

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