First Time Watch: Sunday, Bloody Sunday (1971)

By Christian DiMartino

John Schlesinger’s Sunday, Bloody Sunday boasts one of the most fascinating love triangles I have ever seen. Here is a movie that I went into totally blind- besides knowing that it had 4 major Oscar nominations, my assumption from the title was that it was a war movie of some sort- and left totally enamored with. The premise itself might sound like grounds for a romantic comedy- even Curb Your Enthusiasm had a similar idea- and yet the film itself is convincing, compelling, and in a unique way, rather human.

Schlesinger does an interesting balancing act, but it’s one that manages to play out in his favor in unique ways. He places seemingly normal people in a situation that isn’t exactly normal, and even if the viewer cannot fully relate, they are still able to understand. The point of Sunday, Bloody Sunday emerges more and more the deeper you get into it, and the more the characters are developed.

The focus of the film is mostly on two of the characters, but they have a… let’s say mutual acquaintance. Murray Head (the singer behind “One Night in Bangkok”… that’s not a joke either) stars as Bob, a young sculptor who shares a nice, loving relationship with Alex (Glenda Jackson). That being said, Bob also shares a nice, loving relationship with Daniel (Peter Finch), a Jewish doctor. What’s really intriguing about Sunday, Bloody Sunday is this next detail: Alex and Daniel are actually well aware of each other, their relationship to Bob, and even have mutual friends.

Bob pretty much switches between his interests in not so subtle ways. Bob and Alex may be having a nice evening, and then in a rather cold fashion, he’ll up and leave, with Alex knowing exactly where he’s going: Daniel’s. Daniel feels, essentially the same way. Bob’s relationship with Alex drives her mad- she does everything in her power not to even mention Daniel’s name. Daniel is also, of course, upset whenever Bob leaves him for Alex. Both Alex and Daniel love Bob, and they love spending time with him, but they hate being apart from him.

Watching Sunday, Bloody Sunday, there is a good chance that Bob is more than likely to infuriate. Bob’s way of handling things is… interesting. He’ll be warm and loving one second, and then cold and distant the next. Does he feel as if he has the upper hand? Or, maybe, is he too young to realize that he’s even being fickle? Or does he just figure that Daniel and Alex are very well aware of “the deal,” in terms of being with him? Daniel and Alex, it appears, are a bit older. So why, then, with their wisdom, and their apparent distaste for Bob’s stipulation, do they continue to stay with him?

As the film goes on, and the background Daniel and Alex (who are of course the driving force of the story) becomes clearer, do we reach the point of Sunday, Bloody Sunday. Here is one of the more interesting commentaries on love that I have come across. Here are two characters who would rather deal with their unhappiness because it still comes with happiness. Alex and Daniel, one can deduct, have convinced themselves that staying with Bob is the answer because they’re never going to get the “real thing.” Bob is great when he’s around, but it’s his absence that they find upsetting. Daniel and Alex are two people who have found happiness, but with a catch, and have chosen to settle, bitterness and all.

Head plays his role well. He’s young, good looking, and you just want to smack him. This is, however, Finch’s and Jackson’s show all the way. Finch, whose iconic performance in Network would win him a posthumous Oscar five years later, is really superb here. It’s sort of an understated performance, and yet you know exactly where he’s coming from. Props belong to Schlesinger as well for Daniel’s portrayal. Schlesinger himself was gay, and considering the time period, Daniel is a fully fleshed human being who avoids the usual stereotypes of the time. Daniel is a successful doctor who doesn’t act overtly flamboyant, not to mention, his story doesn’t end in tragedy. Jackson too is really marvelous- she might even be the better of the two. A two-time Oscar winner, you could’ve easily given her a third for this film. It’s really something to see.

Lastly, while I was initially somewhat disappointed by the ending, it has grown on me. Early into the film, one might have an expectation of where the film is going to end up, and it sort of goes there… and yet Schlesinger doesn’t give us what we fully expect. He doesn’t need to, and perhaps it’s because he, like us, want Daniel and Alex to find their peace. Daniel and Alex are both in it for the same reasons, and there is a pretty firm understand of that by the time the film ends. Schlesinger also directed Midnight Cowboy, which I didn’t fully love the first time I saw it, but loved it the second. With Sunday, Bloody Sunday, the first time was the charm.

Now Streaming on Prime Video

Nominated for 4 Oscars: Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay

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