Rose Sandigate (Googie Withers) lives a drab, joyless life. Married to dull, but decent George (Edward Chapman), Rose keeps house for her husband, his two nearly grown daughters from a previous marriage, and their small son. She’s worn out from rationing, slum-living, and her uneventful life in the East End of London.
One Sunday, while preparing Sunday dinner, Rose finds escaped-convict Tommy Swann (John McCallum) hiding in her family’s air-raid shelter. Tommy was serving a prison sentence for a violent robbery committed years before on the day he was to have married Rose. He begs Rose to hide him until nightfall when he’ll make his escape. She tries to resist, but still loves him so she promises to keep him safely locked away in her bedroom for the day. As her husband and children go about their Sunday routines, Rose becomes more tense. She knows she should turn him in, but she loved him once. As the day progresses, Tommy tries to seduce Rose and his attention brings back thoughts she hadn’t entertained in years. Rose is torn. Should she give Tommy over to the police or chuck it all and go on the run with him?
To complicate matters further, Rose’s stepdaughters, Vi (Susan Shaw) and Doris (Patricia Plunkett) are old enough to feel claustrophobic in her home and Vi, the elder of the two, can barely contain her resentment. As it gets closer to nightfall, Rose can’t take the pressure and starts picking fights with everyone in the family. The bickering reaches a fever pitch on a usually calm Sunday afternoon.
All the time Rose agonizes about having a convict under her bed, the law, led by Detective Sergeant Fothergill (Jack Warner) combs the streets for Tommy. Fothergill knows Tommy’s old criminal associates might have a line on where he’s holed up so he presses them for information. This adds to the overall feeling of pressure in the film. During Fothergill’s investigation we get to see the melting pot neighborhood where all this drama takes place. As the camera pans through the busy market, we hear a smattering of Yiddish among the English-speakers. It’s a working-class mix of different cultures with a lot of personality.
It Always Rains on Sunday, listed as a crime drama or film noir, also resembles some French films of the 1930s. Films like Pépé le Moko, directed by Julien Duvivier and Le Règle du Jeu (Rules of the Game), directed by Jean Renoir, show people on the fringes of society living in despair. These films in the subset of poetic realism often have a cynical point of view and at least one character resigned to his own sad fate. The characters hope for love or fortune or something grand, but are often beaten down by a series of misfortunes or a set of rules they didn’t make. Though not technically of that French genre, this film shares composer Georges Auric with many of the films of poetic realism. The style of It Always Rains on Sunday influenced many of the British kitchen-sink dramas of the 1950s and 60s like Look Back in Anger (1956) and A Taste of Honey (1961). These films departed from the usual upper-crust British films by showing working class people stuck in dead-end jobs and living in squalor and dealt more frankly with sex, race, and poverty than films had up to that point.
Michael Balcon produced It Always Rains on Sunday and many other films for Ealing Studios. He also produced for Gainsborough Pictures, Gaumont British, and MGM British Studios and had a huge influence on British cinema. Director, Robert Hamer helmed this and Kind Hearts and Coronets for the studio. Ealing specialized in comedies and some of the locations look like those in the comedies The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe filmed It Always Rains on Sunday along with The Great Gatsby (1974), Rollerball (1975), and about eighty other films while collecting a basket full of Academy Award and BAFTA nominations and wins.
Fleshing out the story are some terrific British character actors. Hermione Baddeley, Alfie Bass, Sydney Tafler, and Nigel Stock all play the kind of small parts that make any film more realistic.
Watch It Always Rains on Sunday for the slice-of-life drama, the dingy, authentic atmosphere, and for the marvelous performance by Googie Withers. In the time it takes to make a Sunday roast, Withers unravels internally without going all Mystic River Sean Penn on us. She shows us just enough. It’s a restrained and artful take on what could easily have been melodrama. Withers also has great chemistry with John McCallum, who she later married so you know the steam is real. If you’re in the mood for a little gem of a film that’s a little bit noir and a little bit day-in-the-life, check out It Always Rains on Sunday.
Notes: Googie Withers and John McCallum were married for 62 years!
Googie means Little Pigeon and was a nickname her nanny gave the actress as a child.