Did you know that Albert Finney was young once? Weird, right? He occupies such the Old British Guy post nowadays that his Young British Guy seems like a completely different actor. Time, of course, has a bit to do with that, as Finney’s had a long career full of great roles (Murder on the Orient Express), not-so-great roles (Looker) and, at present, increasingly smaller roles than he deserves (Skyfall). But it’s not just the passage of time that makes a return to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, a film I first saw in college, a bit of a jarring experience. That’s because the difference isn’t so much Old British Guy vs. Young British Guy at all — it’s Old, Lovely British Guy vs. Young, Dickhead British Guy.
Come on, you say, that’s simplifying it a bit too much. It certainly is. Finney’s Arthur Seaton, the prototypical angry young man at the center of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, in fact has more than a few responses to such “insults” that approach perfection here. His entire social stance is a refutation of the notion that you or I or Doreen (Arthur’s girlfriend) or Brenda (Arthur’s other girlfriend) or anyone else would presume to know the first thing about him. A bit from his famous soliloquy:
Mam called me barmy when I told her I fell off a gasometer for a bet. But I’m not barmy — I’m a fighting pit-prop that wants a pint of beer, that’s me…but if any knowing bastard says that’s me I’ll tell them I’m a dynamite dealer waiting to blow the factory to kingdom come. I’m me and nobody else. Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not. Because they don’t know a bloody thing about me.