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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars British New Wave cinema at its best, 4 Aug 2009
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This review is from: Saturday Night And Sunday Morning [DVD] (DVD)
It's really great to see this classic film available again. It seems to appear and disappear in the BFI catalogues periodically and, though I owned the original VHS release, I missed its last appearance on DVD. It had been some years, then, since I had last watched it but, having seen it again recently, I can say that it is still as superb an example of post-war British cinema as I've seen.

Sillitoe's - and Finney's - Arthur Seaton really captures the mood of much of Britain's working class youth at the time; the fifties and early sixties were a period of relative prosperity, a stark contrast to the privations of the war and its immediate aftermath. There was a complementary liberalisation in social mores to some degree as well, much as had happened during and after the First World War; soldiers returned from the various battle zones with new ideas; the influx of American troops also introduced new concepts - and women and their status began to be viewed differently, by society at large and by women themselves. At the same time, although Seaton is part of this, he hasn't had access to the ideas and education for him to make sense of the changing world and his part in it - he makes flip references to the `Reds' and the Communist Party, but he isn't engaged with politics in anything more than a superficial sense; his comments seem more designed to shock those who steadfastly follow the established order of things.

The boom in consumer goods hasn't filtered down to Arthur's social sphere yet either - he works hard and he has money in his pocket, more money than many of his workmates but his only outlet is booze and sex, which he finds readily available. Caught in a transitional period, he's a peculiarly British `rebel without a cause' and is ready to rail at any perceived authority without a clear idea why. In the course of the film, he has some rude awakenings and some harsh truths to face - I'm not sure myself whether he has learnt as much as he needs to by the end of the movie to make the rest of his life a less bumpy ride, but the ending is open enough for everyone to have their own take on that.

Reisz's direction captures not just the energy of Arthur's world but also the loyalties and tensions - in both the family and in the neighbourhood - that hold it all together; Hylda Baker turns in a sterling performance as Arthur's aunt, a reminder of her fine acting skills for those who only know her later comedy work. Rachel Roberts also stands out as his one-time love interest; it's a more convincing characterisation than Shirley Anne Field perhaps, whose character replaces her in Arthur's affections - at the same time, the contrast between the two women is nicely marked and Field's Doreen has a charm of her own that's hard to put your finger on. In truth the whole cast is well chosen and there are several actors whose faces are probably more familiar than their names would be, all of whom contribute to the success of the film.

With Arthur's story surrounded by the legendary Johnny Dankworth's atmospheric jazz score, this really is a classic of British New Wave cinema and still remains one of the best films - in my opinion - that Britain has produced. A five star recommendation without a shadow of a doubt.
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