Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1963) Case Study

23 May

A piece I wrote on the film ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’, analysing the main theme of changing gender roles.


Case Study: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

The film ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ (Reisz, 1960) was filmed and set in 1963 Nottingham. Based on a novel by Alan Sillitoe, it is very much of the social realism genre and could be used to view many sociological themes. The main theme that this essay will focus on however is gender, looking at the differences and divisions between men and women in 1960’s Britain. It will be important to analyse how men are represented by this film by looking at the differences between Arthur and Jack’s character. In order to do this, the essay will look at the sub theme of class before turning attention to their differing lifestyles. A similar analysis of the film will be conducted when looking at women in the 1960’s, by bringing in sub-theme’s such as abortion and marriage. Crucially, the characters Doreen and Brenda show how opinion’s of relationships can differ between women. Also, despite the film only containing few main characters, it will still be interesting to assess the contrasts between men and women at this time and the opposition they sometimes feel towards each other. This essay will also take into consideration a twenty first century viewpoint when looking at the various issues raised by the film, and how things may be viewed differently in contemporary society.

With regard to gender discourses, the film attempts to highlight two distinct variations of the male gender, with the characters of Arthur and Jack. Arthur, a twenty two year old machinist, is seen on the surface as a kind man with a good heart, he cares very much for his parents and is polite too to his friend Bert and to most other characters. The film presents however, many other sides to Arthur’s character which can be aggressive, selfish, certainly childish and most definitely stubborn. All these personality traits will become evident as we begin to look at how the film portrays gender stereotypes. The film allows us, as the audience, an insight into Arthur’s world immediately as the film begins. The introductory chapter is first shot inside the factory where Arthur and Doreen’s husband Jack both work. The working conditions look decidedly poor, with many of the machines packed tightly together and making lots of noise. As there is seemingly little opportunity for socialising, Arthur is first presented to us alone at his machine as we hear a voice over of his thoughts. He complains of the lack of pay, the working conditions and his simple desire for a fun life. Powell comments, “He sees work as futile and he prioritises fun ahead of any sense of duty, the downfall of the previous generation.” (Powell, 2009). It would appear that Arthur cares little for materialistic things and social status; he values only style and his care free attitude. During Arthur’s voiceover he makes a comment about Jack, he describes him as too career driven as he appears to take on any task given out by the boss. An example of this would be when Jack reveals to Arthur that he has been put on nights. Arthur scowls at this idea as it would be detrimental to his social life; whereas Jack views it only as a positive. Arthur also goes on to mention a work colleague named Fred, “he’s one of them who knows how to spend his money, like me”. As a consequence he looks down on Jack’s ambition and way of life, which is clearly of the previous generation in that it is more reserved, disciplined and materialistic. The first significant contrast between two male characters in the film is presented to the audience when Arthur is seen to be relatively happy to ride home on a pushbike, whereas the film also shows Jack arriving home on his motorbike. It is here where the film juxtaposes the class difference between Arthur and Jack, not just in their mode of transport but further as they both arrive home. It is clear that Arthur still lives with his parents as he shows angst towards his father’s laziness as he walks in from another hard day’s work. In contrast, Jack arrives at his own home to greet his wife and child; where life appears less hectic.

Following a hard day’s work, Arthur would most probably be found in the pub; partaking in a session of competitive drinking as a free spirit. It must be remembered that although Arthur’s working conditions were tough, nineteen sixties Britain was a time when the country was growing in prosperity. There are at least two points of evidence within the film that suggests this, firstly in how many people work at the factory and secondly how busy the pubs and cinema’s look. During the pub scene, the cinematography of the shots allows the pub to look extremely busy. The camera is often situated in a crowd to give the audience a real perspective. It is here where many of the characters appear to reject the idea of ‘the good old days’, as mentioned by Bert in a later scene, and appear happier in this post-war era. Powell says, “The idea that hardships of war brought out the best in the community does not make any sense to the younger generation” (Powell, 2009). It is made clear at certain points within the film that there is an inherent utopian view of the days gone by, which the film attempts to tackle by enhancing or even romanticising the working class lifestyle of the sixties.

Jack on the other hand is far happier to spend the evening reading the paper, as the film begins to show up differences between male lifestyle and desires. Jack is portrayed as a clearly professionally successful family man, judging by the possession of his own home and motorbike. In contrast, Arthur is seen as a wilder character or a player and is seen as someone who cares little for a long term relationship of his own. Instead he chooses simply to have fun and is happy sleeping with married women, even when they are the wife of his work colleague. As the film progresses, it becomes obvious that some of Arthur’s behaviour would certainly be more noticeable today but was seen simply as the norm in nineteen sixties Britain. Throughout the course of the film, Arthur gets up to much mischief as both a womaniser and a joker. Powell states, “There is something of the child in Arthur, constantly pinning the blame to others and it is no surprise that he takes up with a married woman for whom he has no responsibility” (Powell, 2009). The film offers up a sense of togetherness in its representation of men here, as Arthur’s friend Bert generally poses little opposition to his behaviour. This is noticeable in particular when the pair are seen fishing together, as Bert opens up to Arthur as a good friend to offer support for his problems and decisions. Furthermore, most characters in the film are seen to be turning a blind eye to Arthur’s actions. This is evident in the scene just before Arthur meets Doreen for the first time. This is a scene which involves both Arthur and Bert but also Arthur’s Aunt Ada who treats Arthur with utmost respect and brushes over any rumours. It is also here were Arthur’s character is presented as having more than one side to it. He is greeted into the pub by Bert and his Aunt with much rapture as an almost hero-like figure, but he then descends quickly into his default womanising character as he is left alone with his future acquaintance Doreen. Arthur is a character who is difficult to sum up and is something of a self confessed enigma. Nevertheless, the film attempts to offer the audience a fascinating character type who, despite the on the edge lifestyle, could be perceived as being realistic of the time.

Men in the sixties were seen as the dominant gender on many fronts, as they are depicted in the film to be controlling of both their relationships and work agenda’s. Although still considered dominant, men like Bert and Jack are common characters even in today’s society as they appear to be neutral and forgiving. In the conclusion of the film where Jack finds out about Arthur’s deception, he appears to be able to put things behind him in the interest of his work and family. It could almost be argued that his wife’s cheating has far less significance than it would have in today’s age. It would appear that Jack’s character, although clearly troubled by what went on between Arthur and Brenda, is able to move past the events in complete confidence that Brenda is his and that she is completely happy to be with him; despite this not necessarily being the case. During his conversation with Arthur, Jack says “she’ll be alright with me, I’ll look after her” with steely confidence. This sense of male domination of relationships can therefore be seen through both Arthur and Jack’s character but in entirely different ways.

The next section of the essay will look at the main female characters in the film, whilst reviewing some sub themes such as marriage and abortion. It is clear that there are differences between Arthur’s two female acquaintances, first Brenda and then Doreen. It could be viewed, as Arthur does, that Brenda is just another girl looking for fun. Indeed, Arthur has the audacity to blame Jack for the pair’s affair on the grounds that he clearly is not entertaining enough for his wife. This is most likely the truth as Brenda, in being willing to have an affair with another man, is seen to be showing little respect for her marriage. It is here where Brenda’s character appears to reject the norm of the time by showing little fear of divorce, something which makes the storyline of the film even more compelling. There could be many reasons for Brenda’s adultery; firstly as Arthur explained, it could be that she is simply looking for more fun from life. Perhaps another reason, noticeable particularly to a twenty first century audience, is that she appears trapped in a marriage where she is expected to be the stereotypical house wife. Although it could be argued that this is simply the way things were for women back in the nineteen sixties. Women were looked down upon in many areas of society, particularly in the world of work where there was a severe lack of equality in both pay and hierarchical positions. Duiker explains further, “Many European women also still faced the double burden of earning income on the one hand and raising a family and maintaining the household on the other. Such inequalities led increasing numbers of women to rebel.” (Duiker, 2010). In the scene after Arthur and Brenda had spent the night together, it would appear as though Brenda, just by way of duty, is expected to cook Arthur’s breakfast for him. This shows a stark contrast to today’s age, where women have full equality in the social realm as well as in work.

In contrast to Brenda, Doreen appears to be a typical sixties girl who values her relationships and could be described as being from the new generation. She first appears in the pub as Arthur attempts to ask her out on a date. She has a strong personality and, at first, seems reluctant to speak to Arthur until he starts to reveal his charm and wit. Late on in the film as the two appear as an item; Doreen appears keen on the idea of marriage and a new build home. This shows the real difference to Brenda, who appears not to value her marriage but instead her independence. Post war marriages were very much built on the idea of independence as most men were away fighting at war; this left the women to forge a life of their own. Baber explains, “For example, when large numbers of husbands go off to war for a protracted period, the wives must assume new responsibilities that bring with them new status and authority” (Baber, 1943). This sense of individualism carries on into the sixties where women such as Brenda appear to want more from life than just a steady marriage. Similarly, Arthur initially appears reluctant to the idea of marriage as he surveys the new build homes, he looks frustrated as he is someone who wanted more from life than characters such as Jack. Doreen on the other hand looks to be set on the idea of marriage, as she falls deeper into love with Arthur as the film progresses. Doreen, as Prince explains, “is one of the causes of Arthur’s change of outlook… she does not seem a real person in the sense that Arthur does, or even to the extent that the other women are” (Prince, 1960). Doreen is a girl who symbolises the new generation and represents the template for women of the future by being just as strong in personality as she is in her relationship with Arthur. So as the two walk off into the sunset and to the conclusion of the film, it would seem as though Arthur had met his match with Doreen and was beginning to accept a new way of life.

Turning to the sub theme of abortion, the film has a lot to say on the issue as Brenda falls pregnant. The issue is much debated in today’s society, with a clear division between those who endorse it and those who oppose it. Back in nineteen sixties Britain it was something of an unknown quantity, as the film demonstrates. Upon hearing of Brenda’s pregnancy, Arthur delivers Brenda to his Aunt Ada who attempts a home abortion. This shows an intertextual reference to Vera Drake (Leigh, 2004), as the method of abortion used is rather similar. Crucially, the film Vera Drake takes a much deeper look into the character similar to Aunt Ada in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. With the main difference between the two characters being that Vera Drake was condemned for her actions and sentenced to imprisonment. This shows up the differences in when the films were made and even though they were set in a similar period, Aunt Ada’s actions are quickly brushed aside by the film; as was the whole issue of abortion at the time. With regards to the main theme of gender, abortion is viewed vastly different in contemporary society. The enacting of the process of abortion is very big decision for anyone to undertake, as they are effectively taking the life of another human being. In today’s age of relationship equality and the disputes surrounding abortion, the choice of a couple to do this is usually very much a joint and careful decision. In contrast, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning shows the decision to be taken by just Brenda, with Arthur appearing to have very little say in the matter. Furthermore, aside from Arthur initially providing a solution to what was deemed as simply a problem, Arthur shows little support for Brenda. As Powell evaluates, “…the audience could be forgiven for thinking that this will lead him to re-evaluate his life choices” (Powell, 2009). Instead he simply dumped Brenda with his Aunt Ada and hoped the problem would go away. These observations say as much about Arthur’s rather abrupt personality as anything else but does show how times have changed in the relationship between a father and their child. Building on this point, something else which is noticeable in the film is that at no point after Brenda declares she wants to keep the baby does Arthur then pursue any future relationship to either Brenda or his child. This was the reality of the time however as marriage came before anything else, with Arthur being warned by Jack to stay away from his family following his wife’s affair; such was the male dominance of relationships.

With regards to the main theme of gender, the film shows up a rather alarming difference between sixties society and the present day in the divisions and conflicts between men and women.  Violence, albeit only minor, is evident in this film between men and women. An example of this would be when Arthur deliberately spills a drink over someone in the pub before knocking into his interfering female neighbours without apology. More alarming with regards to Arthur is when he takes it upon himself to fire a pellet into the same neighbour using an air rifle. This mistreating of women simply would not happen in today’s age, with the film showing the conflict that was sometimes went on between men and women in the sixties. Even Jack, the naturally reserved character that he is, is seen striking Brenda in front of everyone at the fair such was his immediate reaction to realising the truth of his wife’s deception. Right throughout the film, this is perhaps the most important factor which the film attempts to bring to light about gender. During the abortion scene, Aunt Ada is heard to utter the words, “men get away with murder”. This alone shows the mindset and opposition women sometimes felt towards men. The greatest example of this occurs as Bert and Arthur wander down a poorly lit road. A man is seen throwing a brick through a shop window, but he is spotted by two women who attempt a citizen’s arrest. Bert and Arthur overhear the kerfuffle and head over as the two women hold the man down as they await the police. Had this have happened in contemporary society, the two girls would have been heralded as real life heroes because of their needless bravery. Indeed, men such as Bert and Arthur would be expected to run over and help the women but such is the contrast to the sixties, Bert and Arthur do no such thing. The actual act of vandalism becomes almost irrelevant as Arthur and Bert instantly take the side of the man guilty of committing the crime. The argument on the street then becomes more gender obsessed than anything as Arthur and Bert attempt to free the captive man, before the police eventually do step in. Afterwards, Bert makes the comment, “I don’t know how that rat face could do a thing like that”. Arthur, despite his love for women, replies, “Because she’s a bitch and a whore.” Powell expands on Arthur’s moral position, “Arthur’s perverse outlook on morality is shown when he condemns the man for being ‘spineless’ for not fleeing the scene” (Powell, 2009). This segment of the film shows the most severe difference between nineteen sixties society and the present day in the discussions of gender.

The film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning aims to address many sociological themes through just one storyline. The film manages to identify, perhaps age related, differences between the male characters of Arthur and Jack. Arthur’s character is somewhat fascinating to behold due to his outlook on life, an outlook which contrasts fantastically with Jack’s; who is surely more typical of the time. Despite his eventual comeuppance, Arthur’s refusal to conform to society means that he values fun over anything else in life as he proclaims, “all the rest is propaganda”. The film also manages to identify the differences in the female gender through sub themes such as abortion and marriage. As, particularly concerning marriage, Brenda and Doreen’s characters are polar opposites in viewpoint due partly to their age and social context of the post war period. Interesting also, is the divisions the film accurately shows up between women and men. This is present in the sequences of the film involving marriage and abortion but also in the conflict between men and women in the film, as men are seen as the dominant gender throughout. Many social issues and personality traits of characters would be viewed vastly differently in today’s age, making viewing of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning today even more compelling.


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