Albert Finney rose to stardom in this stark kitchen sink drama written by Alan Sillitoe showing working-class lifestyles in an English industrial community.
Finney plays Arthur Seaton – an impish, devious non-conformist who’s unhappy as a Nottingham factory worker. He is also having an affair with Brenda (Rachel Roberts) the wife of co-worker Jack (Bryan Pringle), until he eventually settles for a more conventional existence.
Finney’s belligerence towards authority convincing, and while he may not always live by his words – “What I want is a good time.
The rest is all propaganda” – as he conforms to marriage with Doreen (Shirley Anne Field), the film’s affirmation that he can never really be beaten survives.
“Why don’t you ever take me where it’s lively and there’s plenty of people?” asks Doreen. In answer, Arthur takes her to Nottingham’s famous Goose Fair, where he bumps into Brenda, who is carrying Arthur’s baby.
They sneak behind a sideshow tarpaulin to talk, but they’re spotted by Jack’s two soldier associates. Taking cover in a whirligig, the pair becomes trapped in the compact car – the squaddies watching at the sidelines, making a mockery of lovers’ intimacy at the fair.
The lyrics of a contemporary rock & roll number, playing over the Tannoy, (“I’m gonna grab it, I’ll have it, why not, why not, why not?”) speak for the silent Arthur, full to bursting with adrenalin and a sense of righteousness.
The fact that this was only Finney’s second film makes it an even more astonishing performance. Both he and Roberts won Bafta awards while the film itself took the best British picture honour.
British films would never be the same again. For the first time, the working classes were treated with respect, not condescension.
Shirley Anne Field