Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)

Drama
Peter Finch, Glenda Jackson, Murray Head, Peggy Ashcroft
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 as ...
  • 08 Sep 1971 Released:
  • 16 Sep 2003 DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:
  • Penelope Gilliatt (screenplay) Writer:
  • John Schlesinger Director:
  • N/A Website:
Fascinating character study5/10

Is it better to share a lover than to have none at all? This is the central question of John Schlesinger's Sunday Bloody Sunday, a study of the lives of two people, a gay middle-aged Jewish doctor (Peter Finch) and a thirtyish employment aide (Glenda Jackson), who are romantically intertwined with a boyish artist (Murray Head) who treats them both with a dismissive interest.

The aspect of the story that immediately flies against film convention is that both are aware of the other lover's existence (instead of the mystery leading to some climactic discovery at the end). The film cuts from Finch to Jackson in their daily routines and private moments in dealing with the situation: Jackson (slightly desperate), Finch (occasionally frustrated but cool). What is extraordinary is the depth Schlesinger brings to these characters,the disappointment, the loneliness, the silent longing, the too-rare passion.

Much is made of the on-screen kiss between Finch and Head, probably semi-shocking in 1971, now not only palpable but expected. Yet there are so many scenes of simple beauty: Finch assuring a worried patient he doesn't have cancer, Jackson discussing the pain of being in love with her mother, who is in her own pain in a dysfunctional marriage, Finch being robbed by an ex-lover, Jackson commiserating with a fifty-something unemployed executive at the office (they go to bed later). Head, as the flighty lover, seems to be in a constant state of jilting; he leaves Jackson flat in the middle of a "romantic weekend" to visit Finch; later, he bails out on Finch when a party of theirs gets out of control. The imagery is great, and pure Schlesinger (although less effective than that in Midnight Cowboy). The internal workings of the telephone is a terrific shot, and so is the hallucination/fantasy of Jackson, imagining the girl dead instead of the dog, then flashing back to a childhood fear realized in a dream. When Head leaves them both at the end to go to America on a whim, the characters are left to ponder a life without love. Jackson strains to understand in a beautifully acted scene- her line about it being hard work to care a lot for someone is the most touching. Finch is more well-adjusted and content with developments, as he makes clear in a speech directly to the camera, another nice touch. Finch and Jackson are brilliant in the roles, Murray Head acceptable, but less satisfying, and Peggy Ashcroft has a moment as Jackson's mother. This is just short of being a great Schlesinger picture, but still a very good, intelligent one. 3*** 1/2 out of 4
One of the truly great adult films of the century10/10
I first saw this at 17 in 1971 and was of course struck by the frankness in the portrayal of the relationship between Murray Head and Peter Finch. People in the suburban audience where I saw it SCREAMED when the two men first kissed. (Someone screamed at a director's screening of the film, much to Schlesinger's consternation. It turned out to be Finch's wife.) One of the reviewers complained about Head's acting, but he is playing a very shallow character whose youth and beauty attract Glenda Jackson and Finch. The film holds up really well today with its complex characters and lack of stereotypes and simple judgments about people. There is also enormous charm and humor in the film, especially in the supporting players. The imagery in the film stays with me--the dog killed by a car, the Mummy's milk in the fridge, the inner workings of telephone switching, driving through the rain in London, men and women making love, precocious children smoking dope, and so much more. It feels like life. It also made me a lifelong fan of Finch, who went on to win a posthumous Oscar for "Network," and Jackson, a two-time Oscar winner, who represents Hampstead in Parliament now. Probably my favorite film of all time.
Schlesinger's finest film5/10
This was a step forward for Schlesinger. After the grim working class stories--A Kind of Loving, with Alan Bates and June Ritchie miserable over an unwanted pregnancy; Billy Liar with Tom Courtenay constantly fantasizing as a way of coping with his dull life--we got Darling, a slick bit of commercial film-making with Julie Christie. Then the trip to New York for Midnight Cowboy, a picture so empty, and so honored by the Academy, that I feared he would become just another hack, a la Clive Donner.

Instead we get a character study, one of the best films of the last three decades. Daniel Hirsch is drowning in respectability; a Jewish doctor who can't muster the courage to come out because the congregation wouldn't understand, so resigns himself to matchmaking attempts by his mother. Alex Greville works with high level job candidates, whom she can sleep with to chase the boredom away. She wants a husband, but her mother advises her to accept that half a loaf is better than none. Bob Elkin is the love object for both; a handsome and really shallow young man who thinks about his future a lot, and realizes that it doesn't involve either Alex or Daniel.

So many wonderful scenes: Bob and Alex visit friends for the weekend. Bob raids the fridge, finds some milk. Alex tells him it's mother's milk--phwoah! Daniel has a party; a woman starts yelling at her husband about the au pair girl he's been sleeping with. Bob wants to leave; his aesthetic sense is offended by this unseemly display of emotion. Daniel wants him to stay, to provide moral support, but Bob is just too selfish to listen. There is always the feeling that disaster is just around the corner, that the triangle will soon collapse.

Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch are just about perfect as the adults in this situation, and Murray Head, if he doesn't show any great acting ability, at least makes us believe in his desirability. He went on to perform roughly the same role as Annie Girardot's lover in La Mandarine.
The danger of being ahead of you time is that time catches up.5/10

Perhaps due to the global discontent brought on by the Viet Nam War and then the Russian-Afgan War, the early 1970' saw the end of a period of idealism and the dawn of an age of realism, far too real in many instances. Movies were no exception to this general social trend in American and European society.

When "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was released in 1971, it was a major jolt to the "film world." There, in all its wide screen splendor and glory was a major production with a major league cast and state of the are writing, direction, and production that flaunted as comonplace the unspoken trio of adult sexual taboo: Homosexuality, Bisexuality and Insest. And this was all presented in an apparently normal setting with apparently normal persons who could be, God forbid, us.

This was no British working class low budget avant guard "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" about the people who we had too often become and through familiarity learned to despised. This was the Upper middle class world where we all imagined ourselves eventually destined to live. And the real shock of it was that we weren't repulsed or appalled. We were if anything, drawn to it. The characters are intelligent, educated, sympathetic, honest to a reasonable degree, at least with each other and very pretty to look at. The situations are all too real. The problem is that "Sunday Bloody Sunday is "life as you find it" and not "life as you'd wish it to be."

Today the shock is gone. It is a beautifully smooth and taught production to be sure, but no longer anything new. Still, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is one of the movies that changed the movies, as well as American and European Society in the middle of the second half of the Twentieth century. Don't miss a chance to see it.
A Bloody Masterpiece10/10
After reading about John Schlesinger's death I felt the need to revisit some of his considerable opus. I couldn't decide where to start, Billy Liar, Darling, Far From The Madding Crowd or Sunday Bloody Sunday. If a film could really penetrate the brain of a character, Sunday Bloody Sunday, showed it to me. I saw into Peter Finch's soul to such degree I was kind of embarrassed and compelled at the same time. Murray Head, personifies what Finch's character longs for and is kind of horrified by. Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch play the imperfect angles of this painfully human triangle. The charming shallowness of Murray Head's character made me understand the complexity of knowing and accepting all of our darkest contradictions. John Schlesinger was a great artist.