Albert Finney in one of the definitive British ‘kitchen-sink’ dramas. Finney is Arthur, a young disgruntled guy (like a British James Dean with a few weeks more schooling). Arthur, of course, makes things more difficult for himself by carrying on with a married woman, Brenda (Rachel Roberts), who’s married to his friend Jack (Bryan Pringle). If that’s not enough drama, Doreen (Shirley Anne Field) comes along.
We’ve also got supporting characters Aunt Ada (Hylda Blake), Bert (Norman Rossington), Robboe (Robert Cawdron), Mrs. Bull (Edna Morris), and Arthur’s mom and dad (Elsie Wagstaff and Frank Pettitt).
We start, naturally, in the factory where Arthur works. Looks like lathe work. We get this advice from him: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down!” And “All I’m out for is a good time. All the rest is propaganda.” These are the narrative book-ends of his life. It seems that Jack, more conservative looking than the others, plans to “get on.”
After work, Arthur settles in at home. His dad is zoned out on the TV; anyway, having eaten, Arthur dresses up, and goes out. In a pub, he’s drinking with Brenda, watching a sailor drink it up. Arthur’s plenty drunk as well. He deliberately spills his beer on a lady, then collapses on the staircase at Brenda’s.
That doesn’t stop them from making out. He wakes up in bed with her. Where’s Jack? “Tell him your in a dance team, he’ll believe you!” He does return just then, with their young son, Tommy. At a pub with Bert, he sees a nice-looking woman. It’s Doreen.
They chat. She’s kind of cheeky, but wary. They make a movie date. Anyway, he goes fishing with Bert; they talk of Doreen “first kiss and she’ll expect an engagement ring” thinks Bert. Then they take on the system “They rob rob you right, left, and center!” Bert cautions him to be careful about Brenda.
Him and his dad despise the busybody landlady–she’s the prototype for the landlady stereotype. Anyway, at work, he rescues a rat from a cat’s clutches–for the exact purpose of horrifying a woman co-worker with the thing. He sits down with Jack to have lunch, near enough to hear her squeal. His boss knows it was his work, but can’t prove it.
At home, Brenda makes an excuse to go out to see Arthur. They speculate if Jack knows what they’re up to. “As long as we’ve got each other, that’s all that matters, isn’t it?” Well, Brenda, not so much, considering you’re married on the side, you know. When they sneak over to the bar Jack’s motorcycle’s there. She goes home, Arthur goes in to chat up Jack.
He discovers that Jack’s soldier brother and friend will be visiting. Anyway, time for that Wednesday date with Doreen; they’re obviously attracted to each other, but she’s reticent. At work, more arguing with Robboe, the boss. At the sweet shop where he treats his nephew, he literally bumps into the landlady.
Well, a bit of a happening at Doreen’s; unfortunately for Bert, his date isn’t to his liking. Meanwhile, Doreen and Arthur are doing fine; until her mom comes in. “Well anyway, I like him” The girl says of Arthur. Oh, man, but Brenda has a bombshell for the old boy.
She’s pregnant, “how d’ya know it’s mine?” Is his expected response. She upbraids him on the responsibility of having a child, and bringing it up. Nonetheless, they decide on an (then illegal) abortion. He goes to Bert’s mom to indirectly ask her about finding a doctor to do it. “You are in a bloody fix, aren’t you?” But, she agrees to help. He brings Brenda to the aunt’s place for a ‘consultation.’
He doesn’t want Bert in on the situation. They go out. Some street entertainment: an old guy hurls a beer mug through a shop window; Arthur and Bert try to rescue him, but a witness (the landlady) fingers the guy when a cop comes up. As soon as possible, Arthur takes out his discontent by shooting her with an air rifle. He and Bert play cards, but Mrs. Bull comes back with her husband; undeterred, Arthur doesn’t mind taunting her with the gun.
Wow, Doreen comes calling. Of course the police follow-up, but his dad alibis for him. Meanwhile, Brenda’s trudging around; the abortion was a scam. So, there’s still her pregnancy to consider; plus, she knows he’s been seeing someone else. She observes, accurately, that he doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong. “And I don’t want anyone teaching me either!” He replies.
She talks about going to a real doctor, for a price. Walking with Doreen, she mentions an acquaintaince who got married; an obvious hint. He’s dismissive and disdainful ” I like you a lot, then.” She wants him to be just a wee bit decent. Ok, so he promises to take her to the fair. All’s well at first, but guess who else is there? Jack, Brenda, and Jack’s soldier brother.
He sneaks into a hidden spot with Brenda “I’m with some pals from work” (!). Brenda tells him she’s having the baby after all. “What can I do?” He offers, sincerely. They try and hide from her brother-in-law and his friend. (there’s no more secrets in the family; either that, or merely being seen with her is problematic).
Brenda gets her comeuppance from Jack; but Arthur’s treatment is even more abusive–at the hands of the two soldiers. Left in a bad state in an alley, he can barely walk. Well, he makes it back home. Doreen comes to have a look. He tells her the whole story, of Brenda, etc., And then “you ought to stay with me for good” Not exactly a proposal.
“I’ll buy you a ring next week, if you’re nice.” Ok, then. Even Bert admits that she’s great. Later, at her place, things are a bit stiff. Until moms turns in, anyway. On the couch, the floor, fun stuff. Back to the unclear light of day–facing Jack at work. How’s Brenda? “She’s all right, with me” says Jack, protectively.
Well, back to the fishing hole. Looks like Arthur is marrying Doreen after all. After asking him about Brenda, Bert cautions him about life “there’s easier ways to get things than lashing out all the time.” He’s not about to change; at least he still wants to appear the tough guy. He actually catches a fish from the canal. Then, he and Doreen out in the fields, talking.
He can’t pass up an opportunity to throw rocks at houses; she thinks that’s pretty stupid. She right, but, before we end with him smiling, and them walking happily down the hill, he says “that won’t be the last one I’ll throw.” That’s it.
He has cracked his Angry Young Man shell just a bit; we could infer that it’s because of Brenda’s influence. She, is more or less, a cleaned-up, more respectable version of Arthur. Her response to the dull life–of their parent’s generation particularly–is essentially the same as his. She’s just more mature, and a bit more hopeful.
In fact, both Doreen and Arthur get what they want: their marriage is sort of a staging area for finding their dream. That’s symbolized by the row of neat new houses; just the sort of ‘getting ahead’ icon that Arthur would’ve scorned before.
Its always difficult in these Kitchen Sink dramas of Finney’s to find something positive about his character. He’s not overtly abusive like the husband he plays in 1959’s Look Back In Anger, but, as he lets on early, he’s more or less a selfish hedonist. Nonetheless, as in Look Back In Anger, there’s hints of goodness popping out here and there.
He’s kind to his younger cousin, he sticks up for the hapless shop vandal, and, though he despises his parent’s limitations, he respects them. And, in a more substantial sense than his character in the earlier film, he does move on. Realizing that he loves Doreen, he’s smart enough not to alienate her. They both show courage and vulnerability by seeing things through.
It is a bit surprising that Doreen isn’t fazed much when he tells her about Brenda. We can infer that, given their social milieu, a cool guy like Arthur would ‘get around.’ Still, he gets off easy with Doreen; not so much with Brenda, though. She and Jack are the couple that Doreen and Arthur don’t want to become.
Thats not likely in any case, as Jack’s passivity is seen as weak; in that respect, Arthur’s outgoing, aggressive nature is preferable. It could be said that Arthur himself settles for conventionality; but, with Doreen, he seeks contentment instead as a restless, nebulous rebellion. Their relationship and its love, after all, was their creation, and owes nothing to any social tradition or circumstance.
The supporting cast is uniformly excellent (Morris does so much with the landlady role, for example). Can’t beat the pacing, tone, or plot. This moves along so smoothly that the viewer might easily be on the next bar stool, or at the canal, fishing, and listening to Finney tell his tale.
Worth seeing and pondering over; drama at its best. 10/10