It Always Rains on Sunday | Film reviews, news & interviews
It Always Rains on Sunday
Robert Hamer's noirish post-war classic of Lambeth life anticipated the British new wave
As the title suggests, It Always Rains on Sunday wasn’t one of Ealing Studios' famous comedies, but a film suffused with resignation and realism. That’s not to say the 1947 classic is monotonous: how could it be when it’s a bickering domestic drama, a panoramic portrait of Bethnal Green street culture, and a thriller that draws on French poetic realism and American film noir? And given its provenance, it does at least include a wryly comic story about petty criminals.
It’s not hard to divine why the film’s director, Robert Hamer (better known for the elegant aristocraticide of Kind Hearts and Coronets), drew on several genres and styles. He surely recognised that to get across the movie’s message at a time when audiences craved escapism, he had to spice up the stew with melodrama and adulterous sex, and conclude the film with a thrilling climax. A manhunt shot amid shunting trains in a siding at a night and indebted to the likes of Le Quai des brumes and La Bête humaine, it turned out to be one of the most exciting endings ever filmed on a real location in Britain .
Fast and spiteful, Vi spent the night before getting drunk and fooling around with a sax player
The message was tough but necessary: at a time of deprivation, the British had to knuckle down to the struggle of returning to drab normality after the excitement of the war had worn off, finding small comforts where they could. The most important of the interwoven plot strands is a metaphor for this prescription. Rose Sandigate (Googie Withers) is a bored, irritable housewife married to the dull but decent George (Edward Chapman), whom she’s never loved. They live with their young son, and George’s two grownup daughters from his previous marriage, in a claustrophobic terraced house adjacent to a railway bridge constantly travelled by noisy goods trains.
When Rose’s virile former lover Tommy (John McCallum), seen only by her, shows up in the family’s Anderson shelter – he’s on the run from Dartmoor – her feelings for him resurface. She secretly feeds and clothes him and, shockingly, they have sex when her husband’s out. But Rose knows that Tommy wouldn’t send for her should he escape to South Africa. She will have to endure (like those East Enders whose existence was decimated by the Blitz), though the threat of being exposed as an accomplice by a nosy reporter forces her to take drastic action.
McCallum had met Withers on their previous film, The Loves of Joanna Godden, and they would remain married from 1948 until his death in 2010. For Hamer, who was gay, Tommy’s return may have symbolised the return of the repressed no less than it does for Rose. Her dilemma is mirrored by the predicaments of her stepdaughters. Fast and spiteful, Vi (Susan Shaw) spent the night before getting drunk and fooling around with a sax player, Morrie Hymans (Sydney Tafler). But Morrie has a long-suffering wife, Sadie (Betty Ann Davies), and a toddler, and when she tells him she’s leaving him, he brushes Vi off like dandruff. Like Rose, she will have to learn to relinquish superficial excitement, though she seems destined to become a kept woman, a moll, or worse.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
A second dose of vaguely historical, highly hysterical action - this time with added warrior women
Aussie mateship massacred in a monstrous Seventies rediscovery
Informal, unlikely tale of Californian cross-generational contacts
More wonderful whimsy from Wes, with Ralph Fiennes a humorous revelation
A newly restored edition of the classic British horror
Oscar-sweeping space epic arrives in superior DVD package
Surprise-free ceremony struggles to achieve lift-off in an evening full of love for 'Gravity'
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top movies out now
Against the odds, this year's Oscars offer up the best Best Picture lineup in years
Reissue for Stanley Donen's luminous but sexist musical, starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire
The most important Oscar categories - those which honour the writing, plus the hottest supporting player nominees in years
Airborne, asinine heroics with Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore