You could call the secret loves in It Always Rains on Sunday noirish, yet the passion and torments of its women are grounded in an East End locale that feels kitchen-sink-real. The 1947 Ealing Studios drama by Robert Hamer, best known for the Alec Guinness black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, is frank and bracing in ways that we’re not used to seeing in a movie from this period, marking a very worthy rerelease by Rialto.
Working-class housewife Rosa (Googie Withers) harbors an old lover who broke out of prison, attacks her stepdaughter, and shrewishly snaps at her solicitous husband. Yet she’s a more sympathetic character than she sounds because Sunday respects the buried disappointment that helps feed discontent (“Ten years too late,” Rosa says to the jailbird). Flashbacks drift us in and out of her past life as a barmaid.
Set in Bethnal Green, Sunday is a palpably detailed ensemble work, populated by dim crooks, a reporter, a constable hunting Rosa’s fugitive and a philandering music store owner, some (inter)related. Rosa’s family is crammed into a close-packed house where you can feel the damp and the drear; they use ration vouchers and patch a broken window pane with black Blitz paper. Hamer’s camera captures snapshots of bars, a flophouse, a thrown fight and a music store with listening booth.
Everything takes place on Sunday, all right, but the characters’ fates are more complex than that irony might suggest. Some are nearly undone by despair, but Rosa’s meek-looking other daughter and her husband offer models for forgiveness. Hamer would enter his own grim spiral; his torments were alcoholism and the expectations of another Kind Hearts and Coronets.