Albert Finney did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
The British kitchen sink dramas as they were known commonly feature a very particularly blunt black and white cinematography, and a man with rather unsavory qualities as a protagonist. To go along with the protagonist is usually quite a strong central performance by an actor such as Richard Harris's strong work in This Sporting Life, or Laurence Olivier's outstanding performance in The Entertainer. Albert Finney's performance is very much in the same vein in terms of style, as Arthur Seaton with many unsavory qualities, and is portrayed by Finney very effectively.
Finney's Seaton is an angry young factory worker. Finney does not of course portray this as some sort of direct venom filled anger toward anyone in particular. There is a particular distaste for so many things around him particularly his boss, and his father that is well played by Finney. Finney makes it as basically as not something that Arthur is constantly going on about by any means. Finney though is very striking in though in the moments that Arthur brings about the hate in his eyes over the people he has no respect for like his father who he believes to be dead from the neck up.
Albert Finney has a powerful raw quality to his performance as this young man who in a certain way seems aimless. Yes he does indeed have prospects of a future it seems, but Finney makes it clear that there is no desire to really go on them. When he is working Finney portrays it as merely what must be done for Seaton to do what he wants. He shows no desire, or fervor in Arthur when he is working, only a distinct lack of respect for his boss. Finney is abashed in that Arthur has no cares for his job other than just the money it provides, which he would like more of, but that is not something he would ever stop hating his boss for.
When not at work or in his parent's home or at work Arthur enjoys the night life, although enjoy might not be the absolutely best word. Finney is good because he is not overbearing in the least in terms of the strong discontent in Arthur, and he is effective in actually showing really that there really does not seem to be an especially obvious solution to his problem. Finney is very good in showing a frustration within this man that never come off as him being smug, or even cruel, but rather he portrays it almost as like a troublesome itch. It is something that bothers the man, but he can't get rid of it because he does not know how.
After all the time he spends enjoying himself does not seem to rid himself of the itch, as there is always that slightly bothered feeling underlying Finney's performance. Also in his scenes with Rachel Roberts where Arthur takes part in an affair with an older married woman, but you'd still be hard pressed to find a moment where he is enjoying himself all that much. Finney has Seaton be a man who goes with this woman and has an affair with her seemingly just because why not. It is not that Finney portrays it like Arthur is this empty man, but in fact he quite effectively shows him to be a lively man seeking for joys from what he can, it just happens not to be all that much of joy in it.
Finney is excellent here becuase it is not as if Arthur is some sort of separate man from what he does and has no attachment, he does have attachment, but Finney brilliantly is able to bring a certain life to the character that always suggests a selfish youth in him. When she becomes pregnant, Finney is terrific in portraying Arthur's reaction to it. He most certainly is effective as he pulls right into the conversation constantly pushing the credits to end the pregnancy, very concerned only for his own problems that would come from it. Finney portrays his reaction as completely selfish although he really is fantastic because he makes Arthur not seem nearly as despicable as he really is.
One thing very important to the whole of Finney's performance that makes it work as well as it does is his charisma he has in the role no matter what the situation. He makes Arthur into a fun loving man, that even with all his frustrations still remains a charming person in his own way. He is actually completely believable in his abilities to keep on good terms with both of the women he knows romantically, as well as so many of the other people around him. Finney brings us in right through Arthur's journey effectively never boring us for a moment.
Finney rejects the notion that a character change must be obviously portrayed by any means. Arthur's affair leads him to being severely beaten, but his relationship with the non married younger woman seems a bit more promising to him. Finney is good here becuase he does leave the results of Arthur's experience appropriately ambiguous, and rightly stresses the fact that Arthur's lack of experience as a man leaves him somewhat befuddled. The anger seems gone to a degree but not so much the frustrations. It is perhaps a lesson partially learned, and Finney makes far more meaningful by keeping the change in Arthur subtle. This is a strong performance by Albert Finney, and a very notable early indicator of his talent as an actor.