Sunday Bloody Sunday: Criterion Collection
November 15, 2012
Fresh from the success of his Academy Award-winning film Midnight Cowboy (1969), director John Schlesinger parlayed his newfound clout by convincing United Artists to bankroll his next film, Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971), which focused on a love triangle between a doctor, his lover and a woman. This character-driven drama was hardly commercial fare but he managed to push it through the system at the beginning of a decade known for envelope-pushing films.
Alex Greville (Jackson) is involved with Bob Elkin (Head), a young artist who also happens to be in a relationship with Daniel Hirsh (Finch), a Jewish doctor. We meet Alex and Bob as she takes care of mutual friends’ kids over a weekend. She is pretty lax with the children, letting them run wild through the house and even allowing them to smoke pot. During the weekend, Bob leaves Alex to spend time with Daniel, his lover. The film goes on to explore the increasingly complex relationship between these three people.
Schlesinger depicts the love triangle in a refreshing matter-of-fact way and Penelope Gilliatt’s insightful screenplay avoids the usual clichés and stereotypes. Alex, Bob and Daniel are fully realized characters that are brought expertly to life by the three talented leads. One feels that they have existed before we meet them and will go on to do so after the film ends.
Sunday Bloody Sunday was a deeply personal film for Schlesinger and it has been said by those close to him that his worldview was quite close to that of Daniel’s. To Peter Finch’s credit, he adopted several of the director’s mannerisms while portraying the character. The three leads disappear completely into their respective roles. Glenda Jackson plays a woman looking for a lover who will commit himself to her fully while Murray Head plays an egotistical artist who has spread himself too thin, trying to please two people in different relationships. Finch delivers arguably the film’s strongest performance as a respectable doctor who lives a secret life and yearns to lead a normal one as an openly gay man.
As the DVD liner notes point out, the most radical aspect of Sunday Bloody Sunday is how it portrays homosexuality as perfectly normal. Neither Bob or Daniel are portrayed in a typically flamboyant way or as some kind of deviant. Daniel is an upper middle class professional while Bob is a brash artist on the rise. Much like John Cassavetes’ films, Sunday Blood Sunday is all about the behavior of its characters and how they act towards each other defines them. It is the kind of film that would be made independently now and was quite a gamble at the time, which makes its release by a Hollywood studio that much more impressive.
There are audio excerpts from a seminar Schlesinger gave at the American Film Institute in 1975. He talks about working with writers and his perchance for economic dialogue. He speaks of his love of observing people – their habits and behavior. Naturally, he talks about making Sunday Bloody Sunday.
Actor Murray Head is interviewed and talks about how he got the role in the film. He offers his impressions on what a personal film it was for Schlesinger. Head speaks candidly about his inexperience as an actor at the time of making Sunday Bloody Sunday.
Cinematographer Billy Williams talks about the look of the film. Schlesinger was impressed with his work on Women in Love (1969) and approached him to work on his next film. Both men came from a documentary background and the director wanted to adopt a realistic look on Sunday Bloody Sunday.
There’s an interview with production designer Luciana Arrighi who talks about the sets of the film. She had only done one feature film prior to Sunday Bloody Sunday. She did a lot of work understanding the three main characters and reflected this in how they lived through tiny details in the places where they lived.
William J. Mann, author of Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger, talks about the making of the film and how it was perceived when it was first released. Mann starts off with its origins and takes us through the production with excellent observations and analysis.
Schlesinger’s long-time partner Michael Childers offers his insights on the director – when they first met and how his personal life was often reflected in his films, including Sunday Bloody Sunday.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.