Mike Leigh (1943-) b. Manchester, England.
The title of this British director’s first feature film, Bleak Moments (1971), could sum up his work as a whole: it’s full of bleak moments, which more often than not contribute to a well-rounded picture of working-class life, although they occasionally overwhelm the film.
Critics and discerning audiences have flocked to Leigh’s work almost since its inception, although the critic who wrote in the 1980s that ‘in any other country apart front England, he would be an internationally established film-maker’ was probably not only underestimating the Brits, but over-stating the international case. Pessimism runs all through Leigh’s early work. He himself has admitted that ‘there’s not one of my pieces before High Hopes (1988) that isn’t somewhere along the way a lamentation for the awfulness of life.’
Leigh studied acting at RADA, but was already a director and designer for stage productions by 1965. He worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the late sixties and began directing films in 1971. High Hopes, which put him on the cinema map, is, although also a grim and biting satire of Thatcherite Britain, a film of considerable humour and instantly recognisable characters. Although Naked (1993), a depressing, minimalist drama, is Leigh at his most resistible, he atoned with Secrets and Lies (1996), a study of secret shames unnecessarily withheld from nearest and dearest, with some excellent scenes that stick in the memory. Leigh was nominated for an Oscar and, in his typical Eeyore fashion, managed to give the impression that he considered himself-unlucky not to win.
Leigh returned with comedy-drama Topsy-Turvy (1999), a biopic of famed 19th-century opera composers Gilbert and Sullivan. This production is a delight from beginning to end, with fabulous performances from an ensemble cast and superb recreation of life behind the scenes of the Victorian theatre. All or Nothing (2002) was another depressing tale set on a London working-class housing estate over a long weekend.