Home Video Hovel- Sunday Bloody Sunday, by David Bax
When you’re trying to affect social change, it’s probably not best to shove your agenda in the faces of the reluctant like some kind of slobbering lunatic. What movies like John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday understand is that change tends to come gradually and subtly and it will go much more smoothly if you behave as if nothing’s amiss at all. That’s not to say that Sunday Bloody Sunday’s only agenda is an ideological one. Its chief concern is the telling of a quietly heartbreaking story peopled by realistic and engaging characters.
Peter Finch and Glenda Jackson play Daniel and Alex, a separated couple who are now each seeing someone else. In both cases, strangely, that someone else is the same person, Bob, played by Murray Head. We spend an equal amount of time with each of the two leads. Bob is often there but never really there at all. Ultimately, he is little more than a sensual emptiness into which they can pour themselves in the absence of a real human relationship. There are people like Bob, the movie seems to be saying, who are able to stand on their own in the world. Most of us, however, need some help.
As usual, the Criterion treatment reveals layers of depth to the film’s technical aspects. Cinematographer Billy Williams’ work is more subtle and artful here than in the filmic glow of Gandhi and On Golden Pond. Slow zooms and textured shadows abound. Meanwhile, the production design and wardrobe departments absolutely must be commended for their work. Rarely do movies realize this precisely how the things that we own each tell their own stories about the life we’ve lived so far. The sound is also crisp but I have to wonder if sound designers in the early 1970’s were aware of the lower end of the spectrum. When a plane takes off on my television, I want the ice to rattle in the glass on the coffee table.
Despite the top-notch presentation we’ve come to expect from Criterion, the focus here is on the performances. Finch perfectly plays the contradiction of Daniel’s superficial yearning for youthful spontaneity and his more deeply-rooted acknowledgment of mature responsibilities and structure. Jackson is almost disturbing in her portrayal of someone whose vicious unhappiness is corroding her from the inside, destroying not only her but those in her emotional vicinity. She knows that what she wants is a passionate love that exists beyond the carnal but she despises herself too much to look for it beyond the one place she knows it isn’t. That would be Bob, whom Head manages to make perhaps the most appealing character in the film, if only because he’s the only one who’s not miserable (though his very presence fuels the misery of others).
Daniel, being a busy doctor, uses a telephone messaging service. On many occasions, we see inside that operation where a pleasant woman connects calls and takes messages. She, of course, knows about everything that’s going on in Daniel’s life. It’s a subtle and amusing way of displaying both the ways in which the characters are connected and the gulfs between them.
Once, when interviewed about this role, Peter Finch said, “I did it for England.” That’s a worthy cause and it likely had a great benefit. Yet, what’s remarkable is how successful the film is at behaving as if nothing so momentous is going on at all.