It Always Rains on Sunday paints a vivid picture of post-war London
The centrepiece of the BFI’s new Ealing: Light & Dark retrospective, It Always Rains on Sunday is a classic 1947 film directed by Robert Hamer which has been digitally re-mastered by the BFI National Archive and which will be re-released nationwide on 26th October. Largely considered to be one of British cinema’s greatest achievements during the late 1940s, the film was Ealing Studio’s first major success.
Set over a single day in Bethnal Green, the film functions on two levels; a rich illustration of post-war working-class London, and a neat noir thriller. It centres around a bored housewife played tautly by Googie Withers, whose past comes back to haunt her in dramatic fashion as her roguish ex-fiance (played by John McCallum) breaks out of Dartmoor prison and seeks refuge in her new family home. Surrounding this central storyline is a spirited cast of characters with their own loosely-entwined threads of narrative. These characters and their dilemmas resonate clearly over half a century on: cheating husbands; scallywag young boys; shady wheeler-dealers; tense domestic relationships – life is on display in a street that could be yours. (But oh, for a time when even the local wrong’uns wore smart trilbies and ties to the pub.)
While one of the strongest themes is that of women being ill-treated by the men in their lives, actually the female characters are pleasingly strong-minded and are granted a lot of power; for example the woman who calmly walks out on her adulterous husband, and the teenage girl who refuses to allow her boyfriend to order her around (remember this is the 40s). But Googie Withers’ character gives in to the charms of her ex-lover and pays dearly for her weakness – a timeless tale.
Opened by a thrilling overture by Georges Auric which sets the scene beautifully for all of the romance, the tension and the unsavoury nature of what’s to come, the film is also accompanied throughout by the sound and imagery of persistent rain, creating a gloomy, murky atmosphere suited to the shady goings-on. Punctuated with thrifty use of humour this story is well structured, building steadily and purposefully to a sudden and dramatic crescendo. Satisfyingly it offers no tidy resolution or happy-ever-after, reflecting real life just much as it offers a real window into the past.
The BFI Southbank’s Ealing: Light and Dark project will run from 22nd October until 30th December 2012. For further information visit the BFI’s website here.