Postwar east London is a place of doomed dreams, cheeky chancers and youthful attitude in 1947’s punchy and poignant ‘It Always Rains on Sunday’, which is being re-released at BFI Southbank as part of a two-month season to celebrate Ealing Studios. Robert Hamer’s film operates as both a lively portrait of cockney life and a noir-tinged crime thriller as one quiet, rainy Sunday in Bethnal Green becomes the focus of a search for a runaway convict. For modern viewers, the film’s locations offer special pleasures too: a road in Chalk Farm doubles for a street in Bethnal Green and a final, nighttime chase in a railway yard takes place on the edge of this year’s Olympic Park.
The man on the run is Tommy (John McCallum), whose escape from prison dominates local chit-chat. Nobody knows, but he’s hiding in the garden of an old flame, Rose (Googie Withers), who appears as a carefree blonde in flashbacks but is now dark-haired and married to a dull man 15 years her senior, with three hectoring children of his own. Women falling foul of men is a theme. One colourful side character of many is musician Morry Hyams (Sydney Tafler), who cheats with Rose’s stepdaughter behind the backs of a long-suffering wife and young baby.
So this is modern life, warts and all. A snapshot of working-class reality over 24 hours. But what makes ‘It Always Rains on Sunday’ special is its humour and energy. The thriller element is taut and clear, and the comedy is served sparingly but pointedly: ‘Nice weather for ducks and aspidistras,’ quips a neighbour as Rose tries to hide her fugitive. There are no lessons learned, no easy answers. You feel next Sunday could be just the same for someone across the street. A real gem.
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This is just one of the great London films: a striking central performance by Googie Withers, a broad cast of East Enders whose lives are knitted together by chance encounters, a bit of wheeling-and-dealing and making do – and rain, rain, rain. It's also extraordinarily ordinary: noir drama jostles with the kitchen sink, and the kitchen sink wins out.