Directed by Mike Leigh
Cornerhouse, 7 November 2010
Mike Leigh’s latest film is, as per usual some may say, a closely observed social comedy.
Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) live a comfortable, some may say cartoonish, middle-class existence but some of their friends, notably Mary (Lesley Manville), are rather more desperate.
There’s an unsparing quality to Leigh’s work which I admire, an unwillingness to sugar-coat social realities or to be deceived about them. It gives rise often to a subtle cruelty, a disdain, when people meet and speak to each other.
In ‘Gooseberries’ Chekhov writes of the invisibility of the sad and the stricken; those who live more comfortable existences, such as Tom and Gerri here, simply do not notice them. Or, if they do, they see them simply as a nuisance. It is a charge one could never place at the director’s door.
If there is one point that I’d level at Leigh (and I’m not sure really whether it’s a criticism: you could say the same thing about Woody Allen, say, or a slue of other directors) it is that he has a tendency to recycle his characters. Katie in this film (Karina Fernandez) is Poppy from Happy-Go-Lucky, while as for Mary we’ve seen her many times before. She is the guest that you cannot get rid of.
Nonetheless this is a very special film, a distillation almost of all that’s good about Leigh. There’s a stirling cast and plenty of fine performances.