In Alfie, the 1960’s are portrayed more negatively than the common stereotypes we are used to. There are ways in which it conforms but on the whole Alfie provides a much more gritty and realistic representation of London in the 60’s. It does this by dealing with relevant political issues like abortion and by having a prominent theme of male power.
Women are portrayed to be extremely simple and predictable from the very start of the film where Alfie almost quotes Gilda exactly before she says that she would like Alfie to meet her husband. Alfie is often the one giving directions and orders to the many women who cater to him (Gilda, Annie, etc.) and, on the whole, he is the one who benefits from his sexual relationships throughout the course of the film. He also frequently refers to women as “it” or “bird” and uses them as lust objects as opposed to human beings, all of these implying that men are the greater sex. The “swinging” image that we have of the sixties, of sexual equality and freedom among other things, seems to mask the truth of gender roles that is shown clearly in Alfie.
Female independence does feature slightly in Alfie in the form of Ruby, an older American woman. She is the only woman in the film that Alfie chases rather than the other way round; she is also the only one to reject him as he has often done to other women. Politically, women’s liberation was more prominent in America in the 60’s and the film shows the ignored repression of British women in the 60’s through the characterisation of the female characters.
Sexual liberation and promiscuity are often associated with the 1960s, mainly due to the introduction of the birth control pill. However, whilst these themes are prominent in Alfie, the focus is more on the consequences of sex rather than the benefits. For instance Alfie gets two women pregnant during the film, Gilda who ends up having the baby and Lily, who, more importantly, has an illegal abortion. Abortion in the 1960s was not only looked down upon but it was also illegal. Low key lighting is used in the scene in which Alfie organizes an abortion for Lily to highlight the negative social attitude towards the subject. For richer, more affluent women there were private clinics that would offer safer abortions but for working class women the process was very dangerous and painful. This scene shows the trauma that working class women of the time went through during an illegal and often dangerous abortion.
After the abortion Alfie personally witnesses the consequences of his promiscuity when he sees the result of Lily’s abortion in his kitchen. This has a serious effect on Alfie and is one of the first points in the film where Alfie shows true emotion. I believe that this set of scenes is there to act as a warning to the audience at the time of the film’s release. The warning being that in a sexually liberated society, sex can often do more harm than good.
Ultimately, Alfie suggests that it was still men who were the dominant sex in the 1960’s and that women, working class women especially, had a much harder time than stereotypes of the era would suggest.