A young man finds himself caught between the complacency of the old and the impersonal machinery of the new in 1960's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Albert Finney stars in this particularly good kitchen sink drama, the harsh realism in its locations paired with dark, expressionist cinematography by Freddie Francis.
Arthur (Finney) works in a machine factory, a beefy young man who constantly seems about to boil over with his squandered energy and passions. He lives in a dilapidated terraced house with his parents, his dad (Frank Pettitt), listlessly caught up in the television, is barely aware of his son's attempts to engage with him. Meanwhile, Arthur's sleeping with Brenda (Rachel Roberts), the wife of his elder coworker, Jack (Bryan Pringle), who blissfully suspects nothing.
Arthur and Brenda have even gotten comfortable in a sort of domestic pantomime where she cooks him breakfast before work at her home while Jack and the kids are away. Arthur and Brenda both seem genuinely happy with this arrangement and Arthur seems to get something of the validation and comfort of a traditional home life with her. Then Brenda gets pregnant by Arthur.
Around the same time, Arthur meets Doreen (Shirley Anne Field), their initial flirtation a wonderful piece of dialogue, seeming like both rough naturalism and cleverly stylised. He offers her a drink and a cigarette before abruptly asking her to meet for a movie on Wednesday.
ARTHUR: Well don't be late then.
DOREEN: I won't be. But if I am you'll just have to wait, won't you?
Brenda accuses Arthur of not knowing right from wrong but it's clear he does have a moral compass, one he adheres to in defiance of a world that seems to him unprincipled. He insists he wants to help Brenda with the child and when she says she wants an abortion he offers to pay for it. He brings her to meet with his aunt who apparently has a reputation for making pregnancies go away. It's a strange and fascinating scene where the three sit down to an awkward tea.
Arthur leaves to walk with his cousin, to prevent the other young man from learning Brenda is there, and the two of them come across a drunk old man whom they witness breaking a funeral parlour window with his mug. Arthur and his cousin join in with a crowd rebuking the old man but Arthur takes more offence when two women insist on taking the matter to the police. It's clear the cops form no part of legitimate justice in Arthur's eyes. When he sees one of the women gossiping about it later he shoots her from a window with an air rifle, apparently causing her no harm.
When she brings a cop to complain, not only Doreen and Arthur's cousin instinctively cooperate to protect him but his dad does, too, providing an alibi for his son without a second thought. But the scene ends rather amusingly with each party thinking they'd gotten something over on the other.
There's a sort of communal justice that depends a lot on point of view, something that works both for and against Arthur as the film goes on. Much as it must seem to Arthur, the exact border between what he's rebelling against and what he's embracing isn't exactly clear, an ambiguity that makes his discontent all the more credible. Like a lot of stories about young misfits, it ends with the impression that Arthur might be slipping into the conformity he feared, leaving us to wonder with him if there was ever something real outside his box that he was instinctively reaching for.