Sporting a bustling East London almost as a character in itself, It Always Rains On Sunday all takes place on one fateful day, the story served up as snapshot of everyday life wrapped around extraordinary circumstance. And, it’s beautifully composed, this 1947 Ealing Studios classic fully deserving its reputation.
Opening with a newspaper report on an escape from Dartmoor, the film establishes its raison d’être immediately, then sweeping us right to a poor, bed-sharing household in Bethnal Green. The browbeaten Rose Sandigate is stepmother to three children—including a teenage girl she is jealous of—and wife to a middle-aged man who is kind but dull, inspiring none of the passion that Tommy Swann, her former lover of a decade ago did. So it’s something of a shock for her when he shows up at her house, having escaped from the aforementioned prison, and she is easily manipulable for provision of food and shelter.
Rose is a tragic character, played wonderfully by Googie Withers. Fearfully embracing the excitement, she hides Tommy within the busy household, well aware that her life will soon return to the humdrum she despises. For her, the entire story plays out within the house, the rest taking place elsewhere in more vibrant settings, highlighting her hopelessness as a character. She is the real prisoner here; Tommy has at least had some control over his circumstances by escaping, albeit temporarily.
And yet, there is much more to It Always Rains On Sunday, the film rich with subplot that is told in a non-linear structure, taking in petty criminals (accounting for some comedy here, which is used sparingly, alongside the nosy neighbours Rose is hemmed in by), vibrant market life and womanising—in fact for each female character, there is a man attempting to control them in one form or other, although there is little comment on this aspect other than mere presentation—all held against the backdrop of postwar poverty, yet with no formulaic misery nor reliance on Cockney stereotype. It’s a stylish story that holds a rather subtle tension, leading to a thrilling climax as Tommy makes a break for it, leaving Rose to pick up the pieces.
Well worth a purchase, particularly for a good remastering job and some insightful extras.