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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.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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
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
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
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.
Perhaps due to the global discontent brought on by the Viet Nam War and
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
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.
"Sunday Bloody Sunday", which tells the story of two older adults
(Glenda Jackson and Peter Finch) who are discreetly in an parallel
relationship with a young, irresponsible artist (Murray Head), has
never appeared on free television (i.e.: U.S. network and syndicated
television). Unlike John Schlesinger's previous movie of two years
earlier, the Oscar-winning "Midnight Cowboy", I have never seen this
movie in a sanitized, edited version and I'm very glad of that.
Former New Yorker movie critic Penelope Gilliatt wrote a brilliant character study. In a very quiet, non-judgmental and unassuming way, I wonder if the story is a bit of an autobiography in the life of openly gay director John Schlesinger?
Very adult, thought-provoking and extremely well-acted, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was made in 1971 and despite some dated 70s trappings, is still way ahead of most movies that deal with the subjects of sexuality and adult relationships.
When I saw this film in 1971, I was too young to understand the basic
human compassion that Schlesinger and Gilliat were examining when they
collaborated on the film.
Having just watched the DVD again, I am truly stunned at how relevant the film has remained. I have never seen anything like it: Glenda Jackson struggles with her own fears of selfishly needing Murray Head; Peter Finch struggles with trying NOT to need/have expectations of him, all the while forgiving Murray Head for never being able to be needed or to meet his expectations.
It is the most adult love story I know.
I recently saw Sunday, Bloody Sunday and thought it was brilliant. I was suprised it came out in 1971, it is definitely ahead of its time. The highlight of the movie is Peter Finch's role - it took guts to take a role like this back then. I'm glad he eventually went on to win the oscar for Network.
I'm surprised at the viciousness of some of the current reviews of this
film by people in a position to "guide taste" of DVD viewers and such.
Viewers' comments vary from "a bloody masterpiece" to "a worthless
piece of junk." This is largely a generational matter. Looking back at
it from the 21st century, it's dated. For those who lived through those
years and saw it then, it may be one of their favorite films. It
obviously reads in some ways as awfully Seventies now -- which seems to
mean slow and meandering, lacking in passion, focused on self-indulgent
people. How pleased we are with what we have become, and how
condescending toward what had looked like the cutting edge social and
sexual attitudes three decades ago.
The really self-indulgent one is Elkin (Murray Head) of course. He's a tiresome self-satisfied little boy-man with a pageboy bob and a dick and good cheekbones where a heart and mind and personality should be, a young man whose youth is one of his few real advantages; who uses indecisiveness as a pretense of freedom. Why do these two grown up and interesting people, Dr. Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch) and Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson) put up with him, knowing they're sharing him with each other? This is the weakness of the piece at its core. If they're really such grown up and interesting people, why are they so stuck and so needy that they don't give Bob Elkin the gate? Doesn't the fact of the two older people's knowing acceptance of "half a loaf" mean they don't have much passion about him -- or much respect for themselves? Or is this Penelope Gilliatt's curious sense of what bi-sexuality means -- dividing your sexuality between two people, who therefore have to accept half a lover? I did indeed see the film when it was new, and it seemed unusually grown up in the way it embraced doing what you don't want to do and getting by with very little -- which in this glossy John Schlesinger London looked pretty nice anyway. It was quietly thrilling to have homosexuality dealt with so calmly in a non-ghettoized context. The movie still has that meaning for me and will never lose it.
My father went to see the film with me -- a second time for me -- when I told him about the beauty of the Jewish bar mitzvah ceremony and I was moved that my father, who often seemed prejudiced, took the sexual contents so calmly and was even enthusiastic about the film. Sunday Bloody Sunday resonated with me then, not for anything that was resolved by it but simply for ideas and emotions that were brought up and taken seriously. It still resonates with me. It's not like having to be satisfied with half a loaf is no longer something that happens in life.
And the bar mitzvah is still there, totally unnecessary, and absolutely glorious. It's thrilling. It was the moment when I realized Schlesinger had a gift for making life look good. When you watch this sequence it makes you fall in love with religion; if you're not Jewish, you wish you were. But though it provides a "demonstration" that Dr. Hirsh really is Jewish, that that's a part of him as well as being gay and being a caring but elegant Harley Street doctor, it's still a rather gratuitous sequence -- though it sings too much for me to care. I wasn't wrong to talk it up to my father, and he wasn't disappointed. He pretended to be anti-Semitic. Well; not when he watched that scene.
I still like the final moment when Hirsh looks at the camera and says he misses him. Here Schlesinger probably is being indeed very autobiographical. He's talking about something that happens to older gay men; to anyone who has an affair with a younger man. You've got to take your lumps. This is an utterly mundane and yet rarely seen moment in film. I still like it, even though I cringe when I watch Murray Head's character go through his irresponsible dance back and forth between the two people who are so much better than he is -- or ought to be. Come to think of it, I had done much the same sort of thing, or was about to do so in a year or so.
Penelope Gilliatt if you read her New Yorker reviews that alternated with Pauline Kael's in those days had a very meandering style in whatever she wrote, and I was impressed by the fact that she could be so much herself in a glossy Schlesinger movie. It seemed that everybody was getting away with something in a quiet way and carrying it off with style. Now it's obvious that the film lacks energy and passion. This is a moment of backlash against the Seventies, which look particularly dated to us from 2005. Under John Schlesinger's glossy polish there now seems to lie a timid heart. In a sense this may be, as people like to say, Schlesinger's most personal film, but that doesn't make it his best. His oeuvre begins too look rather mediocre now, alas, but I would hope people can go back to enjoying it for the pleasures it has to offer.
Sunday Bloody Sunday still has splendid, thought-provoking and touching performances, and if it's a time capsule, that's a value too.
As the 1960s become the 1970s in London, England, a successful male
doctor and divorced, female recruitment consultant both try to maintain
a relationship with a self-centred younger man.
Fascinating period piece, exploring the reality of the late sixties 'free love' ideal - she loves Bob, he love Bob, Bob loves... well, nothing substantial, as it turns out. Mixing in ghastly 'of their time' friends (ex-hippie-types Alva and Bill and their dreadful kids), Sunday, Bloody Sunday is at once both dated and contemporary - set in a time of economic chaos and dealing with a taboo which, in 2009, still seems at least unsettling. Jackson and Finch are brilliant, apologetically yet furiously settling for all the crumbs they can get from their cool younger lover, although under Schlesinger's direction, Head is much less successful - whilst he captures Bob's egotistical nature, there's no counter-balance of charm, leaving the viewer wondering exactly what is either Alex or Daniel really see in him.
Ground-breaking story-telling then, and all kudos to Gilliatt, Sherwin, Janni, Schlesinger and Peter Finch for bringing this grown-up picture of early 70s contemporary life to the screen.
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