Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
“It’s about three decent people. They will break your heart.”
Director: John Schlesinger
Cast: Peter Finch, Glenda Jackson, Murray Head
Synopsis: Divorced working woman Alex and well-to-do Jewish family doctor Daniel Hirsh share not only the same answering service but also the favours of young Bob Elkin who bed-hops between them…
There must have been quite a hoo-ha about this film when it was first released, thanks to that screen kiss between Finch and Head. It all looks a bit tame these days and, coming fairly early in the film, you get the impression that Schlesinger just wanted to get it out of the way so that he could get on with telling the intelligent story of a unique menage-a-trois between two men and a woman but in which, in this case, it’s one of the men who is the object of the other two’s love.
Sunday, Bloody Sunday is always absorbing even when viewed from the opposite end of a 40+ year time span that has seen the world become almost unrecognisable in terms of attitudes towards sex and sexuality, but there appears to be very little soul involved. Perhaps it’s because of the typically British reserve with which the characters seem to accept their situation for the most part. Only Jackson shows any real glimpse of the inner turmoil she is experiencing as one of two lovers enjoyed by the flighty Head. Finch is the other, but his emotions are all tightly buttoned beneath the surface. The only true display of emotion we see from him is his momentary and uncharacteristic burst of anger when Head bails out of a party that suddenly turns ugly.
Head’s character seems a strange target of passion for Jackson and Finch. Both are intelligent and articulate people. Jackson’s parents are filthy rich but she lives in a hovel of a flat with no heating and no paint on the walls. You get the impression, though, that she is living there through choice, as a reaction — or revolt against — the lifestyle represented by her parents. Finch is a well-to-do doctor, living in a wealthy suburb, but you get a very real sense of the loneliness he feels. Head is just a shallow youth, pretty to look at but with little character. Why would these people become so fascinated by him, so enamoured that they are willing to share him with the other rather than lose him completely? It’s a question that interests the viewer, but to which the film fails — or refuses — to supply a meaningful answer. Finch’s final discourse direct to the camera may be eloquent but it’s really nothing more than a mental shrug of the shoulders.
Schlesinger’s direction is as reserved as the British character he is examining, but he provides some nice touches. I especially liked the scene in which Jackson and Finch drive past each other outside Head’s flat, both straining for a glimpse of him through his window, both completely unaware of the other’s presence — it encapsulates with a wordless fluency the absurdity of their situation. At 110 minutes the film perhaps runs a little long, but not so long that you become irritated by the kind of introspection from Finch and Jackson’s characters that teeters on the verge of indulgence at times. Jackson looks beautiful and manages to tone down that faintly strident aspect to her own personality that would have been totally at odds with Alex’s. She seems as perplexed as we do as to why she is so taken with young Bob Elkin, and at least attempts to draw a line under the affair. The thing is, you get the impression that neither she nor Hirsh (Finch) could remain away from Bob for long and, in that respect at least, the film is as relevant today as it was in 1971.
Any film that deals so intelligently with a subject as difficult and irrational as the love of one human being for another is always worth watching, and Sunday, Bloody Sunday will provide plenty of food for thought for adults who don’t wish to have all the elements of a story presented to them like items on a menu. I’ve only seen it once, but already I want to see it again to try and pick up on what I missed the first time. That’s the kind of film Sunday, Bloody Sunday is and, that is one of the marks by which a film should be measured.
(Reviewed 27th September 2005)