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.


VERA DRAKE
2004, Warner Bros., 125 min, UK/France, Dir: Mike Leigh

In this heart-wrenching story of injustice set in 1950s London, Imelda Staunton plays the selfless Vera Drake, a woman whose compassion leads to her downfall. A housecleaner, Vera works hard to care for her working-class family, while searching for ways to serve her community - one of which is performing abortions for young women. But this is a crime in the eyes of her government, and the abortions must be kept a secret, driving a wedge between Vera and everyone she loves. An Oscar nominee for Best Director, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay (though it was filmed without a script), this thoughtful period piece remains surprisingly relevant. Featuring Eddie Marsan, Phil Davis, Lesley Manville and Sally Hawkins.


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