The year is 1957. It's only 12 years since 'Great' Britain won its greatest war, but it is still haemorrhaging from its wounds.
Winston Churchill has been sent packing. The Labour Party is in power. And the workers' slogan is 'It's Alright Jack'. If we don't work, someone else will. And someone else will cough up the welfare payments.
That's the not-so-comic premise behind this cynical but ultimately brilliant comedy. This is not only Peter Sellers' greatest role, as the Trades Union leader Fred Kite, but it also gives sterling opportunities for some great actors of a golden age of British cinema - the always wonderful Ian Carmichael, Margaret Rutherford, Irene Handl, John Le Mesurier, Dennis Price - this is vintage stuff.
Ian Carmichael in his oft-adopted charming but basically gormless upper-class way, acts as the protagonist, a penniless member of the upper-class who joins the working class for a time.
He finds employment in his uncle's missile factory, only to upset his fellow workers' apple-cart by working too fast and too hard. It's not only an attack on the working class; the ruling bosses are shown to be venal criminals, interested only in lining their own pockets. It's a sorry exercise in opportunism from all sides.
Sorry for everyone except us, who can still relish this fine British comedy. While the entire cast is pretty remarkable, there are three actors who dominate: Peter Sellers, Ian Carmichael and the too under-estimated Irene Handl. For verisimilitude and subtlety, they give an acting lesson most actors today could greatly benefit from.
This anamorphic transfer of a black and white movie shines with pristine shadow detail and great contrasts. The level of detail is superb; there is no sign of wear and tear.
The quality is totally amazing. This movie is almost 50 years old, but it glows as if shot yesterday. It demonstrates why some directors persisted with black and white photography long after it became outdated in most people's eyes.
Anyone who loves great acting and the tradition of cinema will want to have this in their permanent collection. The lack of extra features is disappointing, though. There should be room somewhere for a documentary about the contribution the Boulting Brothers made to British cinema, and this would have been a great vehicle for that.