It took Mike Leigh many years to perfect his dramatic technique and find the ideal actors to collaborate with, but he did. Ever since he discovered improvisation while training as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he has... [more]
It took Mike Leigh many years to perfect his dramatic technique and find the ideal actors to collaborate with, but he did. Ever since he discovered improvisation while training as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he has made it the core of his productions. Beginning without a script, Leigh instructs his actors to improvise scenes, sometimes for months on end.
Gradually characters come into focus and a story crystallizes -- but not the usual cardboard characters or pablum stories of the movies. Leigh and his troupe specialize in "real life," limning working-class personae and acting out the vagaries and absurdities of the everyday.
He made his first feature film, "Bleak Moments," in 1971. The film was compelling but not commercial, and Leigh disappeared into the world of British television production for more than a decade. When he reemerged in 1988 with his next film, "High Hopes," a method was born. 'High Hopes" traces the struggles of a working-class couple in London. 1990's "Life is Sweet" continues on this vein, exploring the eccentric relationships between a pair of mismatched twin daughters and their oddball parents.
Leigh himself was born into an unusual family. His parents were left-wing Zionists who settled in Manchester, England; their own parents had emigrated from Eastern Europe at the turn of the century. Like the Japanese British novelist Ishiguro, Leigh sees the world from an outsider's point of view, as if peering through the looking glass of the diaspora. Perhaps it is his position at the periphery that allows him to depict with such painful clarity the foibles of his culture.
Leigh's films are critiques of the repression, deception, and violence in British culture. In "Naked" (1993) an angry-at-the-world rapist wanders the streets of London ranting at passersby. And in "Secrets and Lies" (1996) a young black woman seeks out her birth mother, only to find a dysfunctional lower-class white woman who initially denies their connection. If Leigh's lessons are occasionally heavy-handed, his scenes are famously idiosyncratic: his actors ad lib through awkward moments, making the improbable seem real. Through his dramatic method and stark narratives, Leigh remains an apt commentator on a culture that has struggled to redefine its identity since the Second World War. [show less]