After viewing this unashamedly gritty portrayal of British working class life on BLU RAY, you're left with two distinct impressions - one is admiration for the extraordinary restoration work done by the BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE on the newly restored near-faultless print - and second - and more importantly - is sheer astonishment at what a truly fantastic and ballsy film "Saturday Night And Sunday Morning" is.
In 2009 - with our so-called freedom and enlightenment - you'd be hard-pressed to find a movie so darkly truthful and still relevant. Masterpiece is a word that is often overused, but in this case it genuinely applies.
Directed by Karel Reisz in 1960, it was produced by Tony Richardson (who directed "The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner") and adapted and scripted from his own novel by Alan Sillitoe. Set in Northern England, this is a world of downing pints of mild and bitter until you're paralytic drunk, red phone booths with black A/B coin boxes in them, kids getting a bag of Dolly Mixtures sweets in the corner shop, push-up packets of Sweet Afton cigarettes, kettles that boil by whistling because they're on a gas stove and not in an electric socket where they'd bubble, busy bodies with scarves on their heads watching with malicious eyes from tenement doorways for neighbours doing anything immoral...
A young Albert Finney plays defiant loudmouth Arthur Seaton who suffers the late 1950's Nottingham factory all day, because at night and at weekends, he can have his "fun". In his dapper suit and greased-back hair, Arthur is busy juggling another man's wife, drinking and betting. Finney isn't just good in the part, he's magnificent - he inhabits every scene like a panther about to pounce - like the world owes him a favour and his character Arthur clearly believes it does (his anthem above is spoken in the opening credits as he wipes his hands in a rag by the machine-tool lathe). The script is funny, ultra-realistic and dangerous all of the time. The scene where Finney arrives back from work and tells his mesmerized vegitating dad sat in an armchair in front of the gogglebox again that a man lost an eye because he watched too much television - elicits the half-dead response "aye son" - is both funny and poignant at the same time.
Having said that, watching the movie again, you're more struck by the women whose parts were cutting edge for the time - given real meat to work with. Shirley Ann Field isn't just a pretty face as Doreen the girl who makes hairnets and lives at home with her mum; she adds a rare intelligence and class to the movie. Hylda Baker is excellent as the convivial Aunt Ada who thinks Arthur is a lovely boy, but it's Rachel Roberts as the smitten wife Brenda who nicks the film - she is needy one moment, steely determined the next - then towards the end, she's just beaten and broken and lowered down as she realizes Arthur's heart is going somewhere else - permanently.
Johnny Dankworth's jazz soundtrack is deceptive - it seems like fun at first, but mostly it acts as an almost sly and sinister backdrop - happy tunes for people with nowhere to go - for the rest of their lives... It's very, very effective.
But your eyes keep coming back to the print - apart from a few lines in the opening shot of the noisy factory floor, the stark black and white footage is consistently fantastic - you can see Rachel's face blusher, Finney's sweat in the pub as he watches a war-veteran drown his sorrow in beer (Peter Sallis - the voice of Wallace in Wallace & Gromit - has a bit part in that scene) even feel the soft texture of Doreen's cashmere cardigans...a stunning restoration job done from start to finish.
The 4 extras are a mixed bag of the great and the disappointing:
1. A commentary for the duration of the film, which you can have On or Off.
2. There's an extract of an interview with Albert Finney taped in 1982 at the National Film Theatre (hosted by Michael Billington), which is accompanied by stills from the film. It's witty and informative in some ways, but criminally short at about 6 minutes. Being the main star, it's very disappointing to not hear more from him. Far better is...
3. An interview with Shirley Ann Field, which is superlative. She reminisces about each of the actors, her naivety at the time of filming, how groundbreaking the subject matter was - and of course from the stills - you get to see how beautiful she was and still is - a class act - much like Finney himself.
4. Best, however, is "We Are The Lambeth Boys", a documentary film about youths at work and play. It centres on the "Alford House Youth Club" and like the film is fully restored too. It uses the same Woodfall film team - Reisz as Director, Walter Lassally the camerman and even has Johnny Dankworth's jazzy music. It's a fascinating and lengthy insight into a world of British youth that is gone forever.
"Saturday Night And Sunday Morning" is a balls-to-the-wall triumph on Blu Ray - it's just such a shame that the mighty Albert Finney didn't get more involved - it would have been such sweet icing to an already great piece of cake.
Recommended - big time.
PS: the BFI have also done "The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner" (see REVIEW) and astonishing restorations of Stanley Baker's "Zulu" and Michael Caine's "The Italian Job" (see REVIEW)....