Is it better to share a lover than to have none at all? This is the central question of John Schlesinger's Sunday Bloody Sunday, a study of the lives of two people, a gay middle-aged Jewish doctor (Peter Finch) and a thirtyish employment aide (Glenda Jackson), who are romantically intertwined with a boyish artist (Murray Head) who treats them both with a dismissive interest.
The aspect of the story that immediately flies against film convention is that both are aware of the other lover's existence (instead of the mystery leading to some climactic discovery at the end). The film cuts from Finch to Jackson in their daily routines and private moments in dealing with the situation: Jackson (slightly desperate), Finch (occasionally frustrated but cool). What is extraordinary is the depth Schlesinger brings to these characters,the disappointment, the loneliness, the silent longing, the too-rare passion.
Much is made of the on-screen kiss between Finch and Head, probably semi-shocking in 1971, now not only palpable but expected. Yet there are so many scenes of simple beauty: Finch assuring a worried patient he doesn't have cancer, Jackson discussing the pain of being in love with her mother, who is in her own pain in a dysfunctional marriage, Finch being robbed by an ex-lover, Jackson commiserating with a fifty-something unemployed executive at the office (they go to bed later). Head, as the flighty lover, seems to be in a constant state of jilting; he leaves Jackson flat in the middle of a "romantic weekend" to visit Finch; later, he bails out on Finch when a party of theirs gets out of control. The imagery is great, and pure Schlesinger (although less effective than that in Midnight Cowboy). The internal workings of the telephone is a terrific shot, and so is the hallucination/fantasy of Jackson, imagining the girl dead instead of the dog, then flashing back to a childhood fear realized in a dream. When Head leaves them both at the end to go to America on a whim, the characters are left to ponder a life without love. Jackson strains to understand in a beautifully acted scene- her line about it being hard work to care a lot for someone is the most touching. Finch is more well-adjusted and content with developments, as he makes clear in a speech directly to the camera, another nice touch. Finch and Jackson are brilliant in the roles, Murray Head acceptable, but less satisfying, and Peggy Ashcroft has a moment as Jackson's mother. This is just short of being a great Schlesinger picture, but still a very good, intelligent one. 3*** 1/2 out of 4