The Unicorn Scale: Sunday Bloody Sunday

By Muhammad Modibo Shareef

March 28, 2024



Photo credit: United Artists

Jiddu Krishnamurti, the late Indian philosopher, believed that “freedom and love go together”. Krishnamurti’s words echo a universal concept of how most people perceive the two ideas. After all, it’s nearly impossible to conceptualize love and freedom separately because their definitions always overlap at some point down the line. What is the meaning of love? What does it mean to be free? These questions never fail to entice and haunt the human psyche. 

John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) explores the complicated nature of love and freedom in romantic relationships. His classic film takes the viewer into the intricate lives of three colorful characters: Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch), Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson), and Bob Elkin (Murray Head). A love triangle catches the trio and challenges them and the audience equally. Using a robust bisexual element, Sunday Bloody Sunday summons an alternative depiction of romance and sex in a richly layered fashion. Before we delve in, if you're unfamiliar with our rating metric, check out the original article here

Sunday Bloody Sunday is a British drama film that takes place in London. Daniel is a successful middle-aged doctor; everything about Daniel seems to meet social standards except his sexuality because he is gay. Religious and traditional expectations surrounding manhood and marriage prevent Daniel from disclosing his sexuality to his Jewish family. Alex is an upper-class woman who works as a counselor for a career agency. A divorcee in her thirties, Alex appreciates genuine intimacy but rejects the superficial nature of conventional matrimony. 

Daniel and Alex are both in an open relationship with Bob. Bob is a free-spirited young artist in his twenties. He has aspirations of taking his work overseas to America and is unabashed about his bisexuality. His confidence and warm demeanor are two of the many reasons Daniel and Alex prioritize his attention. Schlesinger’s movie is very character-driven. Hence, Sunday Bloody Sunday uses Alex, Bob, and Daniel to explore romantic relationships.

Image/United Artists

What I Liked:

The film brilliantly depicts the commonality of human needs regardless of one's sexuality. People's desires for certainty, love, and connection are a common denominator that we all share, and the relationships between the three characters highlight this fact. On the surface, Daniel seems to be satisfied with life. He is an accomplished doctor who constantly meets the needs of his patients throughout the film. However, his relationship with Bob reveals the void that exists. Bob brings Daniel happiness, though Daniel tries to hide his love for Bob. His true feelings emerge when he helps an ex-lover and admits he's "probably" in love.

Despite his front, Daniel constantly thinks of Bob. While Bob fulfills Daniel's need for love, his family criticizes his single status. At a bar mitzvah, Daniel's longing for love and freedom is evident. Relatives pressure him about marriage, calling him "selfish". Daniel, feeling lonely, claims he hasn't found the right person yet, ironically feeling constrained by family.

Image/United Artists

While Daniel was dodging awkward questions regarding parenthood, Alex was verbally challenging the legitimacy of marriage. The film uses her character to examine matrimony and how it pertains to happiness. Alex questions if being married ever came down to “anything but property" during a conversation with her mother, Mrs. Greville (played by the brilliant Peggy Ashcroft). Alex believes that love and fulfillment should be the foundation of a marriage as represents the new school, but her mother champions the calloused marriages of yesterday. Alex sees nothing wrong with her unconventional relationship with Bob because the love is evident. Alex’s liberal thoughts around relationships and sex are influenced by her failed marriage and the window-dressing union of her parents.

Daniel and Alex's characters show how traditional standards around marriage and family expectations can restrict someone's expression of what love looks like. Bob Elkin doesn't suffer from this fate. He is confident in who he is and where he stands. Scatty standards don't dictate Bob's expression of love. His relationships with Daniel and Alex bring them solace because Bob offers them an alternative. The audience might get caught off guard by Daniel and Alex's awareness of each other in Bob's life. Sometimes, their polyamorous relationship causes lukewarm jealousy, but the two continue their relationship with him. 

Image/United Artists

Bob's free-spirited nature mirrors his colorful career as an artist. His lovers' careers are demanding and rigid, albeit lucrative, and Bob's presence in Daniel and Alex's lives offers them a remedy for suffocation. He doesn't feel burdened by his sexuality or family and acts as the chill pill to Daniel and Alex's teeth-grinding. Therefore, Sunday Bloody Sunday uses a confident, bi male character to scrutinize the meaning of love and freedom by inspecting superficial ideas.

What I Didn’t Like:

There’s no particular issue that I found while watching Sunday Bloody Sunday. The queer characters were depicted well thanks to the sympathetic eye and brilliance of the film’s gay director. There’s not much to complain about from an artistic standpoint either; the film is critically acclaimed and received numerous accolades for good reasons.

The Rating:

Sunday Bloody Sunday provides the audience with a bi character who has a prominent (and dignified) role in a major film that pushes the envelope. Therefore, John Schlesinger’s masterpiece deserves four unicorns!

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