Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

A '70s classic: Sunday Bloody Sunday

In 1971 two years after the Oscar-winning MIDNIGHT COWBOY, John Schlesinger directed this fascinating character-driven study about love and unhappiness among London’s leisured middle-classes in their Hampstead or Islington enclaves. As scripted by Penelope Gilliatt, SUNDAY BLOOD SUNDAY shows an intriguing array of relationships, involving fifty-ish Jewish doctor Daniel Hirsch (Peter Finch), thirty-something divorcee Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson), dissatisfied with her life, and the flightly bisexual artist Bob Elkin (Murray Head) still in his 20s, whom they both knowingly share, like they share that answering service. Both Daniel and Alex crave more of Bob’s time and attention and they are both such rounded characters one initially wonders what they see in the shallow younger person. As he says to them “I know you feel you are not getting enough of me, but you’re getting all there is”. 

The older lovers contemplate their needs and desires over a long weekend, including that Sunday of the title, pondering whether – at their time of life – the companionship on offer is preferable to solitude, as Alex ruefelly tells herself “There are times when nothing has to be better than anything”.  Daniel too has to content himself with the meagre scraps of comfort that Bob casually throws his way. Surely he deserves more? 

We see Glenda busy with her career, and advising that executive out of work who has had a facelift for a job interview he feels he is too old for (Tony Britton – who provides her with some comfort, as he does not want to return to his wife until his face is back to normal) and visiting her parents Peggy Ashcroft and Maurice Denham, each in their own little worlds. Daniel, meanwhile, attends a Jewish bar mitzvah with family, and joins well-meaning liberal friends (Vivian Pickles, perfect again here as she was as Harold’s mother in HAROLD AND MAUDE, also 1971 – that’s another one to revisit again soon too). The doctor also has a brief encounter with a former pick-up (that other Finch, Jon) and there is that engrossing scene where he visits the all-night Chemist in Piccadilly and gets absorbed watching the addicts waiting for their fixes).
Glenda meanwhile collects her messages, grimaces as she makes instant coffee with water from the hot water tap and grinds cigarette ash into the carpet. The doctor plays charades with his friends, while Alex and Bob take Vivian’s children out for a walk on the Heath. (I understand the young Daniel Day-Lewis was one of them). Things come to a head with Bob deciding to move to America, leaving his art sculpture for the doctor to look at, while Glenda is left with the toucan. Both Alex and Daniel meet and briefly compare notes as they are due to join Pickles and family (and their token black person) for Sunday lunch, as life on Sunday goes on.

Schlesinger directs
SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY still plays perfectly and is a  milestone gay interest title and one of the key works of '70s British cinema (along with Losey’s THE GO-BETWEEN and Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW), it dealt more frankly with homosexuality than any British film before – even Bogarde’s VICTIM. Finch and Jackson deliver powerful performances that tug the heartstrings, conveying the fear, vulnerability and sadness that enslaves their characters to a rather worthless young man. Finch has never been better – well, maybe as his OSCAR WILDE in 1960 and the later NETWORK – than in his last long scene talking direct to the camera, while Jackson has one of her most sympathetic roles. 
The Finches: Peter and Jon

It was actually started with actors Ian Bannen as Daniel, and Hiram Keller - the dark haired one from FELLINI SATYRICON -  as Bob, but this did not work out at all. With Bessie Love, and June Brown (later Dot Cotton in EASTENDERS). It captures that essential Britishness and is a great London film too showing how that priviledged section of society conduct their weekends. Certainly one of Schlesinger’s best, up there with A KIND OF LOVING, BILLY LIAR or DARLING. That gay kiss causes quite a few gasps in provincial cinemas too at the time, as I can attest, when I saw it a second time at a cinema in Dover in Kent, while waiting for friends to return from France. More comments on it at Finch/London labels.

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