You wait ages for a Mike Leigh DVD and then two come along at once – his latest film, Happy Go Lucky and a criminally late first release for Naked both hit the shelves recently. All Mike Leigh-ed up, we were prompted to revisit six of Leigh’s best for your home perusal.
NUTS IN MAY (1976)
The exasperation of forced proximity mixed with inter-class intolerance forms the basis of Nuts In May’s brilliance, as a Croydon couple’s camping trip is plunged into a nightmare world of portable radios and al fresco cooking disagreements. More outwardly comic than a lot of Leigh’s output, it’s an absolute classic.
ABIGAIL’S PARTY (1977)
Beverley (played by Alison Steadman, the onetime Mrs Leigh and longtime screen collaborator) hosts a soiree for the neighbours fuelled by Demis Roussos and gin. Garishly furnished and endlessly quotable, Abigail’s Party is repeatedly voted one of the nation’s favourite television broadcasts and entire evenings have been based around it, both on and off screen.
Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Phil Daniels all give career-highlight performances in this examination of how the flotsam of British youth fares in a world of unemployment. Begrudgement of social standing of success between family branches make this an uneasy ride in parts, but much of Leigh’s appeal is that he is second to none in the comedy of embarrassment.
HIGH HOPES (1988)
Occupying the familiar Leigh territory of class jealousy and resentment, High Hopes views the family chaos through the prism of Thatcher’s Britain in the 80s. Shirley and Cyril don’t have much in terms of wealth but share a compassion and worldly awareness that sees them sharing what they have with a dementia-smitten mother and an idiot traveler.
A brutal and depressing film, it’s an immaculately bleak illustration of the desperation. David Thewlis’s Johnny is one of the most unpleasant characters ever to grace the screen – boasting a litany of horrific encounters while on the run from a less than consensual sexual encounter. Leigh famously allows his casts to improvise most of their roles, you have to wonder what deep, dark place inside them most of this came from.
HAPPY GO LUCKY (2008)
Leigh describes an endlessly optimistic primary school teacher whose joi de vive is just about to get annoying when we’re introduced to the film’s real star, a solid gold Leigh creation. Poppy’s driving instructor, Scott, is a bigot, he’s ignorant, has lousy teeth and clearly not meant to be likeable, and yet he breaks your heart when he boils over in a torrent of impotent rage.
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