Director John Schlesinger could have retired after his 1969 film Midnight Cowboy and been remembered forever as having created one of the most emotionally compelling and complex films of the modern era. His subsequent films were a mixed bag but the filmmaker (who died this past July) at least tried to mess up the lives of his characters with the tense nature of human relationships. His Cowboy follow-up Sunday, Bloody Sunday was daring for its time but somehow it doesn't quite hold together today.
The film concerns a trio of main characters: Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch) is the wealthy doctor who spends a lot of time listening to classical music alone in his apartment. Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson) is the wounded divorcee who clearly longs for some tenderness. Both are lacking some level of emotional stability in their lives, thanks to their innate loneliness. They're also both involved with bisexual swinger Bob Elkin (Murray Head), a flighty fellow who can charm any one of his lovers easily but who never fully gives himself over to either. In addition to keeping Daniel and Alex at arm's length he's also biding his time until he can take his strange art-project inventions to America, leaving the film's other characters feeling even more vulnerable.
Confusing the film a bit is a series of tangents that build all sorts of cinematic tension but distract from the emotional core. Early on Alex and Bob housesit for a family, including watching their four kids and dog. The intrigue leading up to this sequence plus the strange atmosphere of the family and a truly horrific moment when one of the kids runs across a busy street almost recall British horror films like The Omen and Schlesinger's ability to create cinematic tension grabs the audience and rattles it. But in the bigger picture of the film sequences like these make it tough to figure out what you're watching. A long way into Sunday, Bloody Sunday I found myself still wondering what the film was about, robbing me of the opportunity to get to know the characters better.
Schlesinger also gets caught up in some fetishistic details that are interesting but don't lead to anything. Specifically I'm thinking about a continuing exploration of the inner-workings of the telephone system. The fact that Alex and Daniel use the same answering service (an antiquated personal message system) is integral to the plot and the urge to use it as a metaphor for the inner workings of the characters' minds is understandable for a filmmaker of Schlesinger's caliber, but it somehow seems distracting and beside the point.
This is a handsomely made film, however. Billy Williams' grimy cinematography and the performances of the main actors are all top-notch, with Finch providing a quiet burn as a man who's starting to feel the burden of his age. Finch, who is best known for winning a posthumous Oscar for Network ("I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!"), was a real pro and his solid performance helps elevate parts of this inconsistent film into more emotionally gripping territory. Similarly, Jackson communicates a desperation and sadness that is affecting.