Mike Leigh is easy. That’s why we like him. Love, death, family, warmth, humour – are indeed the fabric of everyday life and the nuts and bolts of his award-winning films, best served to a family bunched together on a three-seater sofa after a blazing row. Leigh makes films for humans, meaningful because they are about life’s accumulation of very special moments.
Drama and film schools screen Leigh films like there’s no tomorrow. When I was at Uni, we had Mike Leigh week when a former compadre of Leigh’s or someone who once sat next to him on a bus might come in and do a Q & A. If no-one was available, we’d watch the films and leave just as satisfied as if we’d had lunch with Leigh himself. All the classics; Abigail’s Party, Vera Drake, Nuts In May, Secrets & Lies – I think the message behind it all was ‘this is where you wanna go career-wise’. But something tells me we were also shown them because they’re just so.bloody.good.
Cringeful as it sounds, we drama kids used to obsess over Leigh’s preferred technique – improv – our favourite, it being public knowledge that his films are, on the whole, produced by locking Leigh and a bunch of BAFTA winning actors in a room for however long it takes for Leigh-smelling-genius to seep from under the door.
We underestimated Leigh and over-estimated ourselves in thinking we could do it too. Having, most of us, tried our hands at directing or producing (many acting) I’m sure we’re now that bit closer to appreciating the skill and emotional intelligence it requires to transform life’s mundanities into something as special as a Mike Leigh film. He’s not just a director; he’s the guy throwing coal on our fiery souls .
Doleful eyes like a Merryweather bear and a wadge of super successful films under his belt – what more could a man want. Maybe that’s what spurred him to make Happy Go Lucky which, in his words, is an anti-miserablist film. NOT that he is an anti-miserablist.
Happy Go Lucky – with its many accolades including the Bringer Of Joy Award – goes against hollywood labels and is regarded as Leigh’s breakthrough flick. But Leigh sees it as no exception from his other films. All of them are very exploratory and people react to them in different ways. Poppy , played by Sally Hawkins, has been dubbed a modern day Pollyanna which Leigh firmly disagrees with.
“She’s a mature, adult, sophisticated, centred, focused, responsible person but wth a great sense of humour, joie de vivre and great sense of life. And she’s a good school teacher” says Leigh optimistically.
If you find Poppy relentlessly irritating(which most journalists do.hmm) Leigh thinks that says something about you. That’s what I love about Leigh. His films are, by nature, arbitrary.
So what about his latest brain bulldozer, Another Year? The trailer almost had me in tears – so that’ s a good sign. Old favourites Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen are a cute couple sliding towards old age, pottering about their allotment, cooking curries for their disastrous friends Lesley Manville and Peter Wright.
I’m seeing it on the 23rd November at The Tricycle Theatre, after which Mike Leigh is doing a Q & A. The real Mike Leigh, not his sister’s brother’s god-father’s foot. It goes without saying, I’m really looking forward to it (sobbing loudly) and asking Leigh some pertinent (yeah right) questions afterwards. I’m going to try and get some of the old drama girls and guy (you know who you are) involved too because, in spite of the different paths we’ve all chosen, all of us will go to bed still pissed off that a)we can’t make a Leigh film or b) be in one.
Put your questions to one of the country’s most important directors.
“Outstanding. One of the very best ﬁlms in Mike Leigh’s career”
The Daily Telegraph
Box Oﬃce: 020 7 328 1000
The Tricycle, 269 Kilburn High Road, London, NW6 7JR
Tickets £15 (£13.50 Cinema Club Members)