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Working class heroes
Mike Leigh’s latest project all or nothing continues his fascination with the everyday mundanity of working-class life, but as usual there is warmth and a genuine humour at the film’s core
Craig Fitzsimons, 11 Oct 2002
Pioneer of the unscripted ‘workshop’ approach to directing, and widely deemed (in Britain, anyway) one of the most significant film-makers of the last two decades, Mike Leigh continues to make films of remarkable authenticity and honesty, and shows no immediate sign of stopping. From humble experimental beginnings with his first two films (the aptly titled Bleak Moments and Hard Labour), Leigh’s work has snowballed hugely in popularity over a 30-year timescale, despite zero glamour and uncompromising artistic integrity.
His films, invariably set in drab UK estates and populated by characters that veer from the bog-ordinary to the dog-ugly, serve up frequently glum kitchen-sink melodrama that might not be to all tastes, but has earned the director several awards and widespread respect. Though his films are nowhere near as political as Ken Loach’s (with whom he is constantly compared), Leigh’s social-realist credentials are beyond reproach, and all his movies continue to offer a welcome antidote to Hollywood’s excesses.
Leigh’s latest, All Or Nothing, differs little in form from his established style, with naturalistic (often improvised) dialogue and a cast of downtrodden characters for whom smiling for the camera isn’t exactly a priority. Despite the conspicuous lack of ‘feelgood factor’ on display, the film has more humour, poignancy and heart than most, and certainly qualifies as worthwhile viewing. Regular Leigh collaborator Timothy Spall stars as an overweight, permanently penniless taxi driver whose wife doesn’t have much time for him anymore, while his two obese and ill-tempered kids fester around the house all day. Much emoting ensues over the course of a highly dramatic few days, while the trademark Leigh multitude of supporting characters are as well-observed as ever.
Unsurprisingly, the man who once described Hollywood as a ‘disease’ is in full agreement that few films do enough to reflect working-class life:
“I could go further, I would say there simply aren’t enough movies made about real life full-stop, or anything to do with real life. And I suppose I have tried to do my little bit to alter that balance, it’s what I do. I really have no interest in taking any other approach and I wouldn’t be able to, the only way I can be motivated as a director is in depicting the real world and most films don’t do that or aren’t meant to do that.”
Does he watch Hollywood product at all?
“Oh, for sure. I have no choice, as a film-maker you have to keep up with developments. I go to the cinema frequently, I see everything that matters, I do take an interest, and sometimes the idea of working on a huge scale with a massive budget even appeals to me when I think about it in the abstract. But it becomes a waste of time contemplating, it’s never going to happen, I do what I do and I’ve been doing it for years now.”
Leigh is still in shock at the grim news concerning his erstwhile collaborator Katrin Cartlidge, star of 1997’s Career Girls, who died last month as a result of septicaemia complications.
“Of course, it’s inconceivably sad and premature. It may never be widely realised, but her contribution to film was immense and I’m proud and honoured to have known and worked with her.”
All Or Nothing goes on general release October 11