Sunday Bloody Sunday (film)

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Sunday Bloody Sunday
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Schlesinger
Produced by Joseph Janni
Edward Joseph
Written by Penelope Gilliatt
Starring Murray Head
Glenda Jackson
Peter Finch
Peggy Ashcroft
Music by Ron Geesin
Cinematography Billy Williams
Edited by Richard Marden
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • 1 July 1971 (1971-07-01)
Running time
110 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Sunday Bloody Sunday is a 1971 British drama film written by Penelope Gilliatt, directed by John Schlesinger and starring Murray Head, Glenda Jackson, Peter Finch and Peggy Ashcroft. It tells the story of a free-spirited young bisexual artist (played by Head) and his simultaneous relationships with a divorced female recruitment job consultant (Jackson) and a male Jewish doctor (Finch).

The film is significant for its time in that Finch's homosexual character is depicted as successful and relatively well-adjusted, and not particularly upset by his sexuality. In this sense, Sunday Bloody Sunday was a considerable departure from Schlesinger's previous film Midnight Cowboy (1969), which portrayed its gay characters as alienated and self-loathing, as well as other gay-themed films of the era, including Boys in the Band (1970) and Some of My Best Friends Are... (1971).

The film was released a year before the 1972 massacre of unarmed Northern Irish civilians by the British Army in Derry, Northern Ireland, an event dubbed "Bloody Sunday".


Set in London, the film tells the story of a middle-aged Jewish doctor, Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch), and a divorced woman in her mid-30s, Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson), who are both involved in an open love triangle with sculptor Bob Elkin (Murray Head), a younger man in his mid-20s. Not only are Hirsh and Greville both aware that Elkin is seeing the other but they know one another through common friends. Despite this, they are willing to put up with the situation through fear of losing Elkin, who switches freely between them.

For Greville, the relationship is bound up with growing disillusion about her professional life, failed marriage and uneasy childhood. For Hirsh, it represents an escape from the repressed nature of his Jewish upbringing. Both realize the lack of permanence about the situation and when Elkin decides to leave the country to settle in New York City, after receiving an offer to open his own art gallery, that they both come face to face (for the first time in the narrative at the end). Despite their opposed circumstances, Hirsh and Greville come to realize that it is time to move on; Elkin leaves for the United States.


Production notes

  • Alan Bates was the original choice made by John Schlesinger for the role of Daniel Hirsh, the gay doctor. However he was held up filming The Go-Between (1970) and was replaced first by Ian Bannen, who dropped out after two weeks' filming, and later by Peter Finch. However, the role of Daniel was written as that of a much younger man.
  • Several actresses (including Dame Edith Evans and Thora Hird) politely refused the part of Glenda Jackson's mother, Mrs. Greville, because they thought the project was too risqué. Peggy Ashcroft accepted after the director explained to her the elements of the story and she gladly signed on.
  • Ian Bannen was fired from the role of Daniel Hirsh shortly after filming began. Apparently, he was so nervous about what kissing another actor on screen might do to his career, he could not concentrate enough to even get going with the part. He later said that losing the role set back his career, and regretted it till his death.
  • Daniel Day-Lewis made his film debut in an uncredited role as a vandal. He described the experience as "heaven", for getting paid £2 to vandalize expensive cars parked outside near St Alfege Church, Greenwich.


The film makes extensive use of source music including a leitmotif of the trio Soave sia il vento from Mozart's opera Così fan tutte.


The film currently holds a 92% 'Fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[1]

Peter Rainer of Bloomberg News wrote,"It's Finch's finest moment as an actor (and literally a far cry from his most famous role as the "mad prophet of the airwaves" in Network). As for Jackson, she was never better, more variegated. . ."[2]

This film appeared on both Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel's Top 10 list of 1971, listed as No. 5 and No. 6 respectively. Roger Ebert commented, "The official East Coast line on John Schlesinger's Sunday Bloody Sunday was that it is civilized. That judgment was enlisted to carry the critical defense of the movie; and, indeed, how can the decent critic be against a civilized movie about civilized people? My notion, all the same, is that Sunday Bloody Sunday is about people who suffer from psychic amputation, not civility, and that this film is not an affirmation but a tragedy...I think Sunday Bloody Sunday is a masterpiece, but I don't think it's about what everybody else seems to think it's about. This is not a movie about the loss of love, but about its absence." [3]

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards

Golden Globe Awards

BAFTA Awards

Other awards and nominations


  1. ^ Sunday Bloody Sunday at Rotten Tomatoes
  2. ^ Bloomberg News, 14 January 2013. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  3. ^ Chicago Sun-Times, January 1, 1971. Retrieved 3 July 2018.

External links

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