SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY
(director: John Schlesinger; screenwriter: Penelope Gilliatt; cinematographer: Billy Williams; editor: Richard Marden; music: Ron Geesin; cast: Peter Finch (Dr. Daniel Hirsh), Glenda Jackson (Alex Greville), Murray Head (Bob Elkin), Peggy Ashcroft (Mrs. Greville), Tony Britton (George Harding), Maurice Denham (Mr. Greville), Vivian Pickles (Alva Hodson), Frank Windsor (Bill Hodson), Thomas Baptiste (Professor Johns), Bessie Love (Operator); Runtime: 110; rated: R; producer: Joseph Janni; United Artists; 1971-UK)
“The film’s more liberal sexual attitude was ahead of its time.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A love triangle social drama where a handsome, self-absorbed, young bisexual sculptor-designer, Bob Elkin (Murray Head-Judas in the play Jesus Christ Superstar, which was playing at the time he was filming), shares his sexual favors evenly between a middle-aged Jewish homosexual doctor, Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch), and an older, separated from her husband, heterosexual executive for a business firm, Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson). The film shows ten days in their respective lives, as Elkin plays the role of the elusive lover–he can’t seem to comprehend why each of his lovers is jealous of the other. He seems to be of the opinion that either one should be grateful he at least spends some time to pleasure them.
John Schlesinger directs this personal story, apparently based on a relationship he was once in. He contributed greatly to the script written by Penelope Gilliatt. It should be of interest to film buffs that the cheeky telephone operator was Bessie Love, once a big star in silent films. Also worth noting, is that the trio from Mozart’s comical opera “Cosi fan Tutte” was sung by Pilar Lorengar, Yvonne Minton and Barry McDaniel. The film’s theme echoes the opera’s, as both are about watching lovers leave. The two women, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, watch from the shoreas their lovers, Ferrando and Gugliemo, sail away to distant places – maybe war. There is good reason to think they may never return.
This stylized film offers many vignettes filled with clever small touches that add up to more than the sum. The film is a richly driven character-study, which becomes more involving than the sexual scenes or even of the plotline. It also faintly touches upon London’s contemporary scene and its current economic troubles, but shuns saying anything more than just bringing it up. The film’s ultimate message is not half as good as all the little goodies it offers, as the dignified Dr. Hirsh looks into the camera after being jilted on his vacation to Italy and bravely says half a loaf is often better than none. The film never quite got around to giving the tenuous romantic situation a greater meaning than that, as it instead chose to give those who went with the changing sexual mores of the times a passing nod of assent.
Peter Finch gives a superb performance as he fleshes out his character’s need for some fresh air to give his spirits an uplift from his stodgy life, as his every gesture and look is what gives the story its credence. Glenda Jackson gives a fine performance as a career woman who wants something more than that, as wealth is nothing new to her–her workaholic businessman father was a good provider. She twitches with every major and minor blow in her life, but she also touches the viewer’s heart as a vulnerable woman who handles her romantic hurt in a gallant manner.
The film’s more liberal sexual attitude was ahead of its time. It did a good job of making no big deal over the homosexuality, or for that matter the free-loving heterosexual affair. It ably showed how loneliness drives people into relationships against their better judgment in which they know have little chance of working.
As for the long close-up kiss between Finch and Head, something that made history when the film first opened, the straight Finch said in a magazine interview “I just closed my eyes and thought of England.”
Two scenes struck me as most memorable. When Elkin and Greville were babysitting for their friends’ (Vivian Pickles & Frank Windsor) five noisy and uncontrollable children, the interactions between adults and children were as amusing as any W. C. Fields skit. On a more serious note, that scene showed a new tolerant attitude in rearing children. The other was when Dr. Hirsh attends a bar mitzvah and his overbearing relatives try to fix him up with a nice Jewish girl. We learn more from that scene about how difficult his childhood growing up must have been than any other way it could have been told.
Sunday, Bloody Sunday has held up reasonably well over time. Its slight story is outweighed by the film’s natural rhythms and testimony to the human condition where both the doctor’s patients and the doctor have to learn to live with their infirmities. “Sunday” astutely captured the lives of the trio as they were trying to grab a hold of the something they don’t have. Glenda and Peter have material security, but want love and are willing to settle for companionship; while Head wants his romances to continue to be nice and easy, but wants more than anything else to win over New York with his art designs and become internationally recognized in his field.
REVIEWED ON 8/26/2002 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/