Monday, March 02, 2009

SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY - brilliant, if dated, British relationship drama

SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY is a brilliant British relationship drama directed by John Schlesinger, of MIDNIGHT COWBOY fame. It's an unflinching, devastating examination of the consequences of free love and sexual repression in the early 1970s - the time when the naivety of the 1960s sexual revolution was being exposed. Britain is on the verge of economic collapse, with strikes and power cuts. The country also seems to be in the midst of a moral crisis: the old guard realise that social norms have been profoundly changed; the 60s generation are waking up to reality; neither is in control. All this and more is played out through the relationships between Alex, Elkin and Daniel.

Alex (Glenda Jackson) is a middle-aged divorcee, having a relationship with the younger, bisexual Elkin (Murray Head). They are in an open relationship, but only Elkin exploits that freedom, sleeping with Daniel (Peter Finch), a closeted homosexual and respected Doctor. Given that consensual sodomy had only been made legal in the UK in 1967, and that prejudice was still rife, Daniel's decision to remain closeted is understandable and tragic and his dependence on Elkin all the more heightened. Peter Finch is heart-breaking in the role. Alex is a less tragic figure (she has more options) but also sympathetic. She wants to be bohemian, but can't let go of her need for commitment and love. She's shocked more often and more easily than she would care to admit:

Alex: Children... are you smoking pot?
Lucy (8 years old): Are you bourgeois?

What doesn't stand up today is the presentation of the bohemian Hampstead family to which the children that Alex and Elkin are babysitting belong. It all seems absurd and bizarre. The relationship drama does stand up, dripping as it does with honest authenticity, as Schlesinger translated his own experience as a closeted gay onto the screen. The filming style also holds up. The freewheeling camera and realism harken back to Schlesinger's early 60s British "kitchen-sink" dramas. Watching the film today, I was also struck with the double tragedy of the movie. There's Daniel, trapped, at the centre of the film. And then there's John Schlesinger, who had the guts to depict homosexuality honestly on screen, came out professionally, and was punished with a steady drying up of good work offers.

SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY played London and Venice 1971 and was nominated for four Oscars. It is available on DVD.

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