HIGH HOPES
1988, Park Circus, 108 min, UK, Dir: Mike Leigh

This charming look at life in a working-class London neighborhood centers on Cyril (Phil Davis) and Shirley (Ruth Sheen). She wants a baby but Cyril, a socialist who feels defeated by Thatcherism, is reluctant. Providing the couple with both support and vexation are an extended family including Cyril’s pretentious sister (Heather Tobias) and their increasingly forgetful mum (Edna Dore). “Bluesy and sneaky funny, Mike Leigh's British comedy HIGH HOPES is about as exhilarating as a movie about a bone-deep malaise can be.” – Hal Hinson, Washington Post.


LIFE IS SWEET
1990, Park Circus, 103 min, UK, Dir: Mike Leigh

This early example of Mike Leigh’s signature comedic-realist style follows a working-class family through a series of hilarious misfortunes during a few summer weeks in North London. Fostering improvisation among his actors to develop characters from the inside out, Leigh layers the film with idiosyncratic personalities, including the vaudevillian shop clerk Wendy (Alison Steadman), her naive chef-turned-businessman husband, Andy (Jim Broadbent), and their constantly bickering twins, Natalie (Claire Skinner) and Nicola (Jane Horrocks). The story kicks into gear when Andy purchases a run-down food truck - a spontaneous decision that sends the family into chaos. “There are scenes here that are funnier than those of any other movie this year, and other scenes that weep with the pain of sad family secrets, and when it's over we have seen some kind of masterpiece. This is one of the best films of the year.” - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times.


MEANTIME
1984, Janus Films, 102 min, UK, Dir: Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh’s slow-burning depiction of economic degradation in Thatcher’s England is the culmination of the writer-director’s pioneering work in television. Unemployment is rampant in London’s working-class East End, where a middle-aged couple and their two sons languish in a claustrophobic public-housing flat. As the brothers (Phil Daniels and Tim Roth) grow increasingly disaffected, Leigh punctuates the grinding boredom of their daily existence with tense encounters, including with a priggish aunt (Marion Bailey) who has managed to become middle-class and a blithering skinhead on the verge of psychosis (a scene-stealing Gary Oldman, in his first major role). Informed by Leigh’s now-trademark improvisational process and propelled by the lurching rhythms of its Beckett-like dialogue, MEANTIME is an unrelenting, often blisteringly funny look at life on the dole.


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