If Carlton-Browne of the FO (1958) extended the Boulting Brothers' subject matter into the arena of world politics, I'm All Right Jack (1959) brought them squarely back into a domestic setting. For the first time, they took comic swipes at all and sundry in a highly recognisable and everyday setting, creating a swingeing satire which upset many at the time, and is still capable of causing critical and political controversy.
Taking the central characters from the Boultings' earlier Private's Progress (1956) and exploring their post-war careers in industry, I'm All Right Jack sets out to lampoon workers and management equally - not to mention the government, advertising and the media, and just about everybody else. Factory workers are depicted as work-shy and devious, company directors as unscrupulous. As the title suggests, self-interest is the over-riding principle.
Yet the film has often been interpreted solely as an attack on trades unions. To be sure, at the time of its release there was some concern about the escalating number of strikes and the increased power of union leaders - although to later audiences the clandestine arms dealing may well look the more topical target for satire. But maybe it was, above all, the performance of Peter Sellers as shop steward Fred Kite that skewed perceptions of the film.
The representatives of management and the upper classes are mainly well-loved actors going - brilliantly - through familiar paces. Dottily complacent Margaret Rutherford; oily and corrupt Dennis Price; on-the-make Richard Attenborough; tetchily incompetent Terry-Thomas; fatuously naïve Ian Carmichael: these characterisations are all familiar, even if, in some cases, only from Private's Progress.
Sellers' meticulous portrayal, unlike anything he or anyone else had previously attempted, seems by contrast to come out of nowhere, so it is hardly surprising if it seems to carry more satirical weight. With his officious jargon and idealistic dreams of Russia ("all them cornfields and ballet in the evenings"), Kite is a genuinely rounded creation, and is arguably treated more sympathetically than most of the other characters.
Just in case we have missed the point, Carmichael's formerly innocent Stanley Windrush denounces the selfish greed of everyone around him in the film's climatic television debate. He is a comic inversion of the late 1950s' 'angry young men': despairing, disillusioned and with nothing left to do but retreat from an imperfect world and return to the pastoral pleasures of a nudist colony.