Sunday Bloody Sunday (John Schlesinger) 1971
“Cinema and television sap and leach the narrative power away; insidiously impose their own conformities, their angles, their limits of vision; deny the existence of what they cannot capture. As with all frequently repeated experience, the effect is paradigmatic, affecting by analogy beyond the immediately seen – indeed, all spheres of life where a free and independent imagination matters”. That’s how John Fowles felt about new medias in 1968, when his major master piece The Magus was unhappily adapted to a film. This description of cinema matches perfectly with 1970’s tendencies of British cinema. Private and restricted once, the industries opened towards the world, considering the influences of Hollywood positive and taking example of it in some way.
Daniel Hirsh, Jewish doctor (Peter Finch) and divorced, middle-aged woman Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson) are both involved in a love triangle with a young bisexual designer Bob Elkin (Murray Head). Not only they are aware that Elkin is seeing both of them, but they do know each other through mutual friends. They are afraid to loose Bob, so they are trying to deal as good as possible with the situation. For Alex, the relationship is bound with a growing disillusion about her life, failed marriage and uneasy childhood. For Daniel, it represents an escape from the repressed nature of his Jewish upbringing. When Elkin decides to leave the country, Alex and Daniel decide to meet each other (for the first time in the film, ant at the very end). This departure is an alarm for them, an understanding that its time to move on.
The title itself conveys ambivalence of various sorts. It is unlikely that many in the film’s audience around the world would have been attuned to the past political resonances of the phrase “Bloody Sunday”. This had been the name given to an infamous episode of street violence in London involving police and socialist demonstrators back in November 1887, and it was also the nickname of one of the anarchist characters in G.K. Chesterton’s novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, published in 1908. Besides Bloody Sundays took place in 1905, a massacre in Saint Petersburg, 1920, a violence incident in Dublin during the Irish War of Independence, in 1938, police violence against unemployed protesters in Vancouver, British Columbia etc. The phrase will be reused again in a political context some months after the film release to name the day when thirteen civilians were killed by British paratroopers during a protest march in Northern Ireland, but nothing so specific of turbulent is even hinted at the film or by its title. The action starts on a Friday and covers two whole weeks together with all days in between. There is a political subtext to the action, figured neatly on the soundtrack by news broadcasts on a car radio announcing wage blow-outs, threatened strikes and the imminent crisis in foreign exchange rates; 1970-71 was an unstable period in British politics with the blow-outs of the long-term Labour government and the return of the Conservatives bent on limiting the legal powers of the trade unions. But if there is a sense in the film that the best of the times in the nation’s political history is now past, there is nothing to suggest that this is yet the worst of times. It seems to aware that more somber times are to come. Only children find the love affair between two men “funny” ( first homosexual kiss on the screen).
Sunday Bloody Sunday was directed by Schlesinger on his return from America. While Daniel and Alex are discussing the possibility of living in America, radio and newspaper headlines report TUC (Trades Union Congress) meetings, the unemployment figures and “Call Girls Out on Strikes”. The soundtrack includes the trio “Soave sia il vento”, from Mozart’s opera, this trio is representative of the love games, betrayals, and it evokes the emotional...
Bibliography: Penelope Gilliat, Sunday Bloody Sunday, ed. Corgi, London, 1971.
Pauline Kael, Deeper into Movies, ed. Atlantic Monthly Press, Boston, 1973.
Brian McFarlane, The Cinema of Britain and Ireland, ed. Wallflower Press, London, 2005.
Justine Ashby, Andrew Higson, British cinema, Past and Present, ed. Routledge, London, 2000.
Amy Sargeant, British Cinema, a critical history, BFI publishing, London, 2005.
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