Friday, 29 March 2013

It Always Rains On Sundays

‘It Always Rains On Sunday’ is a brilliant piece of work, a masterpiece of complex narrative in the social-realist style. It’s also dark, a real Brit Noir, shot through with quiet desperation that gradually grows into suicidal despair.

Set on March 23rd, 1947 in Bethnal Green, London, the films main narrative is about Rose Sandigate, a former barmaid now married to a man who is ‘decent’ to her, stepmother to two teenage girls and mother of ten year old Alfie, whose main focus is in getting enough money to buy a mouth organ. When Rose goes outside to the Anderson Shelter she is accosted by Tommy Swann, her ex-boyfriend.

Tommy has broken out of Dartmoor and is on the run. He needs food, sleep, shelter, dry clothes, and sex, and he expects Rose to provide them.  This is no great love story, however:  when Tommy asks Rose for money, she gives him her most precious belonging, the engagement ring he gave her ten years ago. He doesn’t recognise it.

Because she’s never stopped loving him, Rose puts everything on the line to help Tommy, even though he knows he’s using her out of desperation rather than desire, but the strain of doing so in a house full of people and incident, and the eventual discovery of her secret leads her to put her head in the gas oven. She survives, and has to go on living a little life in that little house, with her boring husband, in a poor, broken down place where it rains all the time, not just Sundays – a cruel, mundane fate.

Around this tense central narrative, director Robert Hamer weaves flashbacks and a number of different stories, introducing a myriad of characters, all interconnected, all living in the same wet, bombed out bit of London.
There’s Morry Hyams, ‘The Man With Sax Appeal’ who owns a local record store and plays the dance halls at night. Morry is having an affair with Vi, Rose’s step-daughter, and his wife Sadie finds out and leaves him.

Rose’s other step-daughter, Doris, is a nice, dopey girl who has a nice, dopey boyfriend, but they argue when Morry’s brother,  Lou, a local gangster with a penchant for fur gloves, takes an interest in her.

A slow-witted gang of toughs have pinched a gross of roller skates, and are finding them difficult to offload, and a genial but worldly wise detective (Dixon of Dock Green himself, Jack Warner) is on their trail as well as trying to find Tommy.

The only person who avoids drama is George, Rose’s husband, whose well-established routine keeps him busy while the world goes on around him. While he has his newspaper, his pipe and his darts (‘you and your darts’) all is well with the world, and he provides a stoic presence in a world of barely suppressed emotional chaos.

Tommy Swann gets caught, of course, but only after a very tense chase in the railway yard which features loads of smoke, steam and shadows, some scale models, and an almost extraordinary finale in which, realising the game is up, Tommy puts his head on the railway line and waits for a goods train to cut it off. He’s pulled from the path of the train at the last minute and, presumably, sent back to Dartmoor, no remission, no hope, and a date with the Cat O’ Nine Tails for his impudence (flogging was still used as a prison punishment up until 1948, the year after the film is set).

‘It Always Rains On Sunday’ is quite an amazing film, brilliantly realised by cast and crew. Many critics have described it as a portrait of misery and poverty but for me, it isn’t purely about money or the highs and lows of an emotional rollercoaster, but rather the steady flat line of ordinary life. The arrival of Tommy Swann shakes things up temporarily, but the status quo is re-established within twenty four hours: the everyday, with all its tedium and routine, its regrets, wrong turns, dead ends and thwarted opportunities, triumphs.  

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