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Goodbye, Albert Finney

My Mam always joked that in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning—that brilliant kitchen sink drama set in 1960s working-class Nottingham—his Arthur Seaton was “just like yer Dad!”

Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

My Dad was freed from pain just before midnight on 2nd September 2008. The nurses came to the house and made things official, then left us alone to sit with him. A little later his body was removed. My Mam and I were on our own.

Numb, we both knew we'd be up all night. At some point, we reached for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and welcomed the company of Arthur Seaton. This familiar figure, looking just as my Dad does in all those old photos that I cherish: same hair, same suit, similar mannerisms. The locations were ours too: running down Derby Road, or by the canal on his day off. Mam seemed happy. “There he is, look! That’s yer Dad!” I too could always see it, feel it: a nostalgia for something of him that I’d never experienced.

I think we played the DVD twice before sunrise: once to elicit memories and share stories, and then again to fill the emptiness of the early hours. Finney’s presence in any movie has continued to offer a strange comfort to me ever since.

I’ve loved him in many roles, but of note is his bedridden salesman Edward Bloom in Big Fish, recounting tales of an eventful youth. My mind built a wormhole between the two films: I would let myself imagine that those events in 1960s Nottingham were one such chapter in Bloom’s colourful life.

Of all of his films, it’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning I will rewatch first. It’s a film the three of us loved, and a film I shared with my wife when she moved to Nottingham. When I married I bought copies of Alan Sillitoe’s book for each of my groomsmen. The book was a powerful statement before Finney was even cast, but it’s the film that truly brings to life those old black and white photos of my parents: carefree, learning about each other and entering adulthood. The film is a living snapshot of working-class Nottingham life.

Of course, I never met Albert Finney. He had no idea of my existence, nor did he base his characterisation of Arthur Seaton on my late Dad. And yet whenever I look at photos of Finney in Nottingham—whether film stills or press shots in the Old Market Square—they feel incredibly familiar to me. Familial. I think of my Dad.

Today, with the event of Finney’s death, those images no longer represent just one loss. They represent two.