Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: A bi-sexual love affair.

Bob (Murray Head) is having a relationship with middle-aged divorcee Alex (Glenda Jackson) as well as a family doctor named Daniel (Peter Finch). He jumps between the two of them whenever the mood hits. Both Alex and Daniel are aware of the other and are not happy about it, but feel if they push the issue Bob will simply leave them. The film focuses on the frustrations and loneliness that Alex and Daniel feel in dealing with Bob and their less than ideal situation.

This film is engrossing from beginning to end. Director John Schlesinger was still in top form as the camera work, cinematography, and editing is first rate. Everything is meticulously orchestrated to the point that every shot seems to tell its own little story. The narrative is done in a fragmented style going back and forth between the present day to scenes from when both Alex and Daniel were younger. Much of it comes off like thoughts going on inside someone’s head and the film’s style is masterful and flawless.

What I really liked about this movie is the fact that it focuses not so much on each person’s time with Bob, but actually more on their time away from him. The points this film makes about the difficulties of communication that people have when they are in a relationship as well the glass wall that sometimes gets created is completely on-target. The film’s subtitles and nuances are perfectly balanced and if you are a viewer with more sophisticated tastes then this will be time well spent.

Things are revealed about the characters through visual and subtle means, which I loved. When Alex drops an ashtray and then proceeds to clean it up simply by rubbing the ashes into her rug, or the precarious way she makes herself on cup of coffee in the morning while rushing off to work nicely reflects her out-of-control life and the topsy-turvy way she approaches it. The scenes where Daniel attends a Bar mitzvah is excellent and for me some of the strongest moments in the movie.

The portrayal of the children here is above average as well. They are not cute and well-behaved, but instead realistically rambunctious and mischievous. I liked the wild, endless energy that they display and how easily chaotic they turn their household into, or how the parents had become immune and deaf to all of it. Having the 4-year-old smoke pot while Alex and Bob, who are babysitting, decide to overlook it may be pushing things a bit far, but I still liked the mod approach the film takes, which reflects nicely the unconventional lives of the characters.

The film’s biggest flaw is Head himself. The man is mainly known for his singing career and his acting ability is clearly limited in comparison to Finch and Jackson who are both excellent. The character is dull and the film does not make much of an attempt to analyze him like it does with the other two. In a way Head’s one-dimensional performance works because the character seems to be used as a ‘pretty boy’ who the other two are attracted to because of his looks and youth and therefore revealing the insecurities that they have about themselves as well as giving a pertinent warning that when one pursues someone solely based on their sex appeal the relationship is doomed.

I liked how at the very end Daniel and Alex do meet and have a brief conversation though I wished it had been just a little more extended. Having Finch talk directly to the camera at the closing is a bit disconcerting though what he says is interesting.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: September 8, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Schlesinger

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (The Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video

7 responses to “Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)

  1. Excellent review, I’ve heard some really good things about this film.

  2. I almost picked up the Criterion blu the other day. Looks like I will be picking it up now!

  3. Great review!

    We’re linking to your article for John Schlesinger Friday at

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Pingback: John Schlesinger Friday – Watch: Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) | Seminal Cinema Outfit

  5. Episodic and rather tedious despite good intentions and a good cast.

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