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Leigh, Mike

LEIGH, Mike



Nationality: British. Born: Salford, Lancashire, 20 February 1943. Education: Attended North Grecian Street County Primary School, Salford, and Salford Grammar School; studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, 1960–62, Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, London, 1963–64, Central School of Art and Design, London, 1964–65, and London Film School, 1965. Family: Married actress Alison Steadman, 1973; two sons. Career: Founded, with David Halliwell, the production company Dramagraph, London, 1965; associate director, Midlands Art Centre for Young People, Birmingham, 1965–66; actor, Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, 1966; assistant director, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1967–68; lecturer, Sedgley Park and De La Salle colleges, Manchester, 1968–69, London Film School, 1970–73; founded Thin Man Films, with producer Simon Channing-Wilson, 1989; directed TV advertisements, 1991. Awards: Grands Prix, Chicago and Locarno festivals, 1972, for Bleak Moments; International Critics Prize, Venice, 1988, for High Hopes; Best Film Prize, National Society of Film Critics, 1991, for Life Is Sweet; Best Direction Prize, Cannes Film Festival, 1993, for Naked.Agent: Peters, Fraser and Dunlop, 503–4 The Chambers, Chelsea Harbour, London SW1O OXF, England. Address: Lives in Muswell Hill, North London.

Films as Director:


(Feature films)

1971

Bleak Moments

1988

High Hopes

1990

Life Is Sweet

1993

Naked

1996

Secrets and Lies

1997

Career Girls

1999

Topsy-Turvy

(Television films)

1972

A Mugs Game; Hard Labour

1975

The Permissive Society; group of five 5-minute films: TheBirth of the 2001 FA Cup Final Goalie; Old Chums; Probation; A Light Snack; Afternoon

1976

Nuts in May; Plays for Britain (title sequence only); Knock forKnock; The Kiss of Death

1977

Abigail's Party

1978

Who's Who

1980

Grown-Ups

1982

Home Sweet Home

1983

Meantime

1985

Four Days in July

1987

The Short and Curlies

1992

A Sense of History

Publications


By LEIGH: books—


Mike Leigh, Interviews: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers), edited by Howie Movshovitz, Jackson, 2000.

On LEIGH: books—

Clements, Paul, The Improvised Play: The Work of Mike Leigh, London, 1983.

Coveney, Michael, The World according to Mike Leigh, New York, 1996.

Carney, Ray, The Films of Mike Leigh: Embracing the World, New York, 2000.


By LEIGH: articles—

"Bleak Moments," an interview with C. Montvalon, in Image et Son, December 1973.

"Mike Leigh, miniaturiste du social," an interview with Isabelle Ruchti, in Positif (Paris), April 1989.

"Life Is Sweet/A Conversation with Mike Leigh," an interview with Barbara Quart, Leonard Quart, and J. Bloch, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1992.

"Mike Leigh. Chaos in der Vorstadt," an interview with Robert Fischer, in EPD Film (Frankfurt), February 1994.

"L'histoire d'un bad boy," an interview with Cécile Mury, in Télérama (Paris), 10 May 1995.

"Gloom with a View," an interview with Steve Grant, in Time Out (London), 22 May 1996.

"A Conversation with Mike Leigh," an interview with S.B. Katz, in Written By. Journal: The Writers Guild of America, West (Los Angeles), October 1996.

"Exposures & Truths," an interview with A. White, in Variety's OnProduction (Los Angeles), no. 10, 1996.

"Life by Mike Leigh," an interview with S. Johnston, in Interview, November 1996.

"Secrets & Lies/ Raising Questions and Positing Possibilities," an interview with Richard Porton and Leonard Quart, in Cineaste (New York), March 1997.

"How to Direct a DGA-nominated Feature: Jeremy Kagan Interviews Four Who Did," in DGA Magazine (Los Angeles), May-June 1997.

Interview with P. Malone, in Film en Televisie + Video (Brussels), September 1997.


On LEIGH: articles—

Taylor, John Russell, "Giggling beneath the Waves: The Uncosy World of Mike Leigh," in Sight and Sound, Winter 1982/83.

Boyd, William, "Seeing Is Believing," in New Statesman, 17 September 1982.

French, Sean, "Life on the Edge without a Script," in ObserverMagazine, 8 January 1989.

Ruchti, Isabelle, "Mike Leigh, miniaturiste du social," in Positif, April 1989.

Kermode, Mark, "Inherently and Inevitably Awful: Mike Leigh," in Monthly Film Bulletin, March 1991.

Cieutat, Michel, "Glauques esperances," in Positif, September 1991.

Kennedy, Harlan, "Mike Leigh about His Stuff," in Film Comment, September/October 1991.

Hoberman, J., "Cassavetes and Leigh: Poets of the Ordinary," in Premiere, October 1991.

Adams, Mark, "A Long Weekend with Mike Leigh," in NationalFilm Theatre Programme, May 1993.

Naked Issue of L'Avant-Scene du Cinéma, November 1993.

Berthin-Scaillet, Agnes, "Lignes de fuite," in Positif, November 1993.

Medhurst, Andy, "Mike Leigh: Beyond Embarrassment," in Sightand Sound, November 1993.

Ellickson, Lee, and Richard Porton, "I Find the Tragicomic Things in Life," in Cineaste, vol. 20, no. 3, 1994.

Smith, Gavin, "Worlds Apart," in Film Comment, September/October 1994.

Paletz, Gabriel M., and David L. Paletz, "Mike Leigh's Naked Truth," in Film Criticism, Winter 1994/95.

Herpe, Noël and O'Neill, Eithne and Ciment, Michel, "Secrets etmensonges," in Positif (Paris), September 1996.

Kino (Warsaw), February 1998.


* * *

The international success, both critical and popular, of Secrets and Lies in 1996 brought British director Mike Leigh his widest recognition to date and almost drew him into the mainstream. However, this fiercely independent minded, and individualistically creative director chose to continue along the same road he had been traveling for some 25 years. Like his compatriots Ken Loach and Stephen Frears, Mike Leigh had built up a remarkable body of television work years before he became known to a wider international audience with his film High Hopes. As early as 1982 the BBC screened a retrospective of his work, as well as devoting a whole edition of its arts programme Arena to him. By contrast, Americans had to wait another ten years to see what had led up to High Hopes, when the New York Museum of Modern Art staged a retrospective in 1992. In fact, High Hopes was only Leigh's second feature in seventeen years, the first being Bleak Moments, which was largely funded by Albert Finney's company Memorial Enterprises (also behind Stephen Frears's Gumshoe in 1971) at a time when the British cinema had almost ceased to exist—- or, as Leigh puts it, "was alive and well and hiding-out in television, mostly at the BBC."

So, as the critic Sean French wrote in an article on the director in the Observer: "For years Leigh has been making better and more penetrating films than anyone else about the class system (Nuts in May and Grown-Ups), unemployment (Meantime), Northern Ireland (Four Days in July), and family life under Thatcher (High Hopes). By almost any reckoning Leigh should be considered one of our major film directors, yet he is virtually ignored in most considerations of British cinema." With the release of Naked this situation improved somewhat, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that although Leigh is better known in Britain than he was formerly, he remains, like Ken Loach, generally more highly regarded abroad than in his own country.

That Leigh has found it difficult to make feature films is certainly a sad comment on the often sickly state of the British film industry. But as he himself admits, his approach to filmmaking could seem offputting even to the most sympathetic of financiers: "I only accept a project if nobody else wants to know what it's going to be. I come along and say 'I've got no script, I really don't know what I'm going to do, just give me the money and I'll bugger off and do it."' And doing it is time-consuming—the rehearsals for High Hopes took a not untypical fifteen weeks.

It is impossible to discuss Leigh's work without discussing his working methods, even though there's an unfortunate tendency amongst critics to fetishise these to the point of ignoring what the resulting films are actually all about. Leigh himself has referred to such writings as "an albatross, a media preoccupation," but since misunderstandings abound and are often used as a basis on which to attack his work, it is important to understand what he is doing. In fact, his methods have changed little since he developed them in the theatre in the mid-1960s. As he said in 1973: "I begin with a general area which I want to investigate. I choose my actors and tell them that I don't want to talk to them about the play. (There is no play at this stage.) I ask them to think of several people of their own age. Then we discuss these people till we find the character I want." Each actor then builds up his or her own character through a lengthy process of research and improvisation, both in the rehearsal room and in real locations. Only when the actors have fully 'found' their characters are they brought together and the all-important relationships are formed between the characters: the play is what happens to the characters, what they make for themselves. Behaviour dictates situation."

For Leigh there is no great mystique about improvisation; as he described it in 1980: "Improvisation is actually a practical way of investigating real-life going on the way real life actually operates. That's all." At the same time, however, he is utterly opposed to the notion of improvisation as "some kind of all-in anarchic democracy." To quote from the same 1980 interview: "It is a question of discovering what the film or play is about by making the film. It isn't a committee job nor is it 'let's just see what happens and go along with it.' Nor is it a question of shooting a lot of footage in which actors improvise. In my films 98 percent is structured." The main work, therefore, is done in research, improvisation, and rehearsal long before the cameras appear; by that time "there's very much a script. It just so happens that I don't start with a document, that's all. What finally appears on screen is only very, very rarely improvised in front of the camera. For the most part it's arrived at through a long process, and it's finally pinned down and rehearsed and very disciplined, while the quality of the language and the imagery is heightened. . . Improvisation and research are simply tactics, a means to an end and not an end in themselves." It is for these reasons that most of his television films carry the unique credit "devised and directed by Mike Leigh," and the theater critic Benedict Nightingale once described him as "part composer, part conductor, part catalyst." And whatever the critical misunderstandings surrounding Leigh's method, it certainly brings results. His cast lists have included some of Britain's finest younger actors, such as Alison Steadman, Anthony Sher, Jim Broadbent, Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Lindsay Duncan, David Thewlis, Frances Barber, and Jane Horrocks, many of whom have done some of their best work for him.

Given Leigh's improvisatory methods, it is no surprise to find that films such as On the Waterfront, Rebel without a Cause, and Shadows were early influences. Rather more interesting, however, is his citing of the playwrights Beckett and Pinter and the artists Hogarth, Gilray, and Rowlandson as major inspirations. This points us towards a central fact of Leigh's oeuvre: that it is absolutely not naturalistic, and that critics who have tried to pigeonhole it as such are largely to blame for the tired old saw that Leigh cannot portray "real people" without sneering or laughing at them, or being condescending. Perhaps the best way to describe Leigh's work is as distilled or heightened realism, which certainly does not preclude elements of humour and even caricature in his depiction of character. For example, the frightful yuppies the Booth-Braines in High Hopes and the appalling Jeremy in Naked are certainly caricatures but they are entirely, indeed all too, believable, as is the terrifying Beverly in Abigail's Party. For all the demotic, quotidian surface appearances of his films, Leigh expresses a remarkably consistent and personal view through them. In his work, implicitly, a great deal is suggested about the way life might, or should, be by showing, in a particular way, the world as it actually is. Speaking at the time of the release of High Hopes Leigh talked revealingly of "distilling my metaphor out of an absolutely tangible, real and solid and plausible and vulnerable and unheroic and unexotic kind of world," and not for nothing in that film does he have his most positive characters, Cyril and Shirley, visit the tomb of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery, on which is written: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point however is to change it." Not that Leigh offers any easy answers—and certainly not Marxist solutions—something else which has hardly endeared him to the Left in Britain. Or as he puts it: "For me the whole experience of making films is one of discovery. What is important, it seems to me, is that you share questions with the audience, and they have to go away with things to work on. That's not a cop out. It is my natural, instinctive way of story-telling and sharing ideas, predicaments, feelings and emotions." On the other hand, as a perceptive article in Cineaste remarked: "Although Leigh resolutely refuses to engage in sloganeering, his films are acutely political since they consistently articulate an often hilarious critique of everyday life. This critique is always rooted in the idiosyncracies of individual characters."

If anything could sum up Leigh's vision it might be Thoreau's famous remark about the mass of people living "lives of quiet desperation," and one is also reminded of Chekov in the way his films seem constantly to hover between comedy and tragedy, with despair lurking never very far beneath the surface. As he himself once remarked, "there's no piece that isn't, somewhere along the way, a lamentation for the awfulness of life." In more specifically English terms other reference points might be Alan Ayckbourn (however much Leigh would disagree), Alan Bennett, and Victoria Wood. Although his films are often taken to be about "Englishness"—or even more specifically, about life under the appalling social experiment commonly known as Thatcherism (although much of Leigh's work actually predates the egregious regime)—their success abroad suggests that they tap into rather more universal doubts and fears about the human condition. This is certainly the case with Naked, which, through Johnny's rantings and ravings about chaos theory, Nostradamus, Revelations, and God knows what else, achieves much more than a particularly rancid glimpse of a squalid corner of this septic isle and exudes an imminent, all-pervasive sense of geopolitical doom.

Yet there is something quintessentially English about Leigh's films, and maybe that is why certain English people do not like them. As the novelist William Boyd observed in a piece on Leigh in the New Statesman, on the occasion of the above-mentioned BBC retrospective: "Any edginess or unease prompted by his observations can only be a sign that certain truths are too uncomfortable for some critics to acknowledge. Ostrich complexes are easily fostered; complacency is a very tolerable frame of mind." And not for nothing did Vincent Canby once describe Leigh as not only "the most innovative of contemporary English filmmakers" but "also the most subversive." Whether it's the cruelly, painfully funny examination of preternatural shyness and sexual ineptitude of Bleak Moments, the suburban Strindberg of Abigail's Party, or the excruciating family row into which High Hopes gradually boils up, the vision of England that emerges, though leavened by absurdity, humour, and moments of human warmth and togetherness, is hardly an attractive one. As Andy Medhurst remarked in one of the better British pieces on Leigh: "This England is specific, palpable and dire, though aspects of it are at the same time liable to inspire a kind of wry resignation. . . . If anything, Englishness is revealed as a kind of pathological condition, emotionally warping and stunting, to which the only response can be a kind of damage limitation. What many of Leigh's films suggest is that to be English is to be locked in a prison where politeness, gaucheness and anxiety about status form the bars across the window. . . . His best films (Bleak Moments, Grown-Ups, Meantime) exemplify his skills as a choreographer of awkwardness, a geometrician of embarrassments, able to orchestrate layers of accumulated tiny cruelties and failures of comunication until they swell into a crescendo of extravagant farce."

These elements synthesised into a perfectly orchestrated exposp of racial bigotry and trumped-up suburban pretension in Secrets and Lies which, though profoundly "English" in its locales and modes of spoken expression, cut through cultural barriers to touch a universal nerve. Combining humor with its sly attack on value systems and its overt critique of racist misperceptions, Secrets and Lies offers an unusually (for Leigh) clear redemptive ending to the upheavals caused when a young black woman (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), given up for adoption at birth, seeks out her real mother (Brenda Blethyn) only to discover that she is white. Garlanded with honors, awards, and Oscar nominations, the film made Mike Leigh more bankable than he had ever been and he embarked on his next feature film with unprecedented speed.

However, Career Girls, released to eagerly expectant critics and audiences the following year, seemed to puzzle rather than please, and was not a success. It is difficult to account for this reaction. The film, which cuts back and forth between the present—when two young women who shared a flat in their college years meet up again for a weekend in London—and their shared past, certainly deviates from its maker's previous work in the close focus on the protagonists, each trapped in her own private disillusion, rather than observing a broad canvas of interaction. However, it's beautifully observed, well-played, and very accessible. Perhaps audiences, post-Secrets and Lies, were more interested in at least the promise of a happy ending than in the unmistakably bleak emotional territory occupied by Career Girls.

Mike Leigh ended the 20th century by striking out in a most unexpected direction with Topsy-Turvy, dealing with the relationship between Gilbert and Sullivan and the genesis and first production of The Mikado. It is in many ways a surprising departure: at heart, an oldfashioned backstage story, realised as a visually accurate period piece, and offering sumptuous and joyous extracts from The Mikado. The film points to Leigh's particular sensibility in the threads of unhappiness that run through several of the characters' lives, but, it's something of a rag-bag of ideas that never quite fuse into a successful vision. If nothing else, though, Topsy-Turvy demonstrates and confirms that Mike Leigh's imagination is not static and that he is undeniably very much an "auteur," while the number of awards and nominations it garnered, including those from the British critics and BAFTA, might indicate that appreciation of his gifts in his home country is increasing.

—Julian Petley, updated by Robyn Karney

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Leigh, Mike 1943–

LEIGH, Mike 1943


PERSONAL


Born February 20, 1943, in Salford, Lancashire, England; son of Alfred Abraham (a doctor) and Phyllis Pauline (maiden name, Cousin) Leigh; married Alison Steadman (an actress), September 15, 1973 (divorced, 2001); children: Toby, Leo. Education: Attended Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, 196062, Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, 196364, London School of Film Technique, 196364, and Central School of Art and Design, 196465.


Addresses: Agent Peters Fraser & Dunlop, The Chambers, 3443 Russell Street, London WC2B 5HA, England. Contact c/o Thin Man Films Limited, 9 Creek Street, Soho, London W1D 4DQ, England.


Career: Director and writer. Dramagraph (production company), London, England, cofounder, 1965; Midlands Art Centre for Young People, Birmingham, England, associate director, 196566; Victoria Theatre, StokeonTrent, England, actor, 1966; Royal Shakespeare Company, assistant director, 196768; De La Salle College, lecturer, 196869; Sedgely Park College, Manchester, England, lecturer, 196869; London Film School, London, lecturer, 197073; Imagine Productions, cofounder, 1982; Thin Man Films, principal. Arts Council of Great Britain, member of Drama Panel, 197577, member of Director's Working Party and Specialist Allocation Board, 197687; National Council for Drama Training, member of Accreditation Panel, 1978; Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), member of general advisory council, 198082. Appeared in television commercials for McDonald's in the U.K., 1994.


Awards, Honors: Golden Leopard Award, best film, Locarno International Film Festival, and Golden Hugo Award, Chicago Film Festival, both 1972, for Bleak Moments; George Devine Award, 1973; Evening Standard Award, and London Critics Choice Award, best comedy, 1981, both for GoosePimples; Evening Standard Award, 1982; People's Prize, Berlin Film Festival, 1984, for Meantime; Film Award nomination, best short film, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1988, for The Short and Curlies; FIPRESCI Award, Venice Film Festival, Critics Award, Venice Film Festival, 1988, Stars de Demain Coup de Coeur, and Peter Sellers Comedy Award, Evening Standard, 1989, all for High Hopes; honorary M.A. degree, University of Salford, 1991; Independent Spirit Award nomination and Bodil Festival Award, best foreign film, 1992, both for Life Is Sweet; decorated Officer, Order of the British Empire, 1993; Film Award nomination (with Simon ChanningWilliams), best short film, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1993, for "A Sense of History," Two Mikes Don't Make a Wright ; Cannes Film Festival Award, best director, Audience Award, international competition, ClermontFerrand International Short Film Festival, Golden Palm Award nomination, Cannes Film Festival, Metro Media Award, Toronto International Film Festival, 1993, Alexander Korda Award nomination, best British film, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Independent Spirit Award nomination, best foreign film, 1994, all for Naked; Michael Balcon Award, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1996; Lifetime Achievement Award, Empire Awards, 1996; Golden Palm Award and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, both Cannes Film Festival, European Film Award nomination, best film, Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award, best director, Boston Society of Film Critics Award, best director, 1996, Academy Award nominations, best director and best writingscreenplay written directly for the screen, Alexander Korda Award (with ChanningWilliams), best British film, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Film Award, best screenplayoriginal, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Film Award nominations, best film (with ChanningWilliams) and David Lean Award for Direction, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Cesar Award nomination, best foreign film, Independent Spirit Award, best foreign film, Humanitas Prize, feature film category, Writers Guild of America Screen Award nomination, best screenplay written directly for the screen, Directors Guild of America Award nomination, outstanding directorial achievement, Critics Award, best foreign film, French Syndicate of Cinema Critics, Golden Satellite Award nomination, best director of a motion picture, Goya Award, best European film, Guild Film AwardSilver, foreign film, Guild of German Art House Cinemas, Humanitas Prize, feature film category, Silver Ribbon, best director, Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists, ALFS Award, British director of the year, London Critics Circle Film Awards, 1997, Silver Condor Award, best foreign film, Argentinian Film Critics Association Awards, 1998, all for Secrets & Lies; Golden Spike Award nomination, Valladolid International Film Festival, Silver Spike and Youth Jury AwardSpecial Mention, Vallodolid International Film Festival, 1997, for Career Girls; officer, Ordre des Arts et Lettres, 1998; Special Award (with Dick Pope), best duo: directorcinematographer, Camerimage, 1999; Dilys Powell Award, London Critics Circle Film Awards, 2000; Golden Lion Award nomination, Venice Film Festival, 1999, Academy Award nomination, best writing, Alexander Korda Award nomination, best British Film, and Film Award, best screenplay, both British Academy of Film and Television Arts, British Independent Film Award nomination, best director, Chicago Film Critics Association Award nomination, best screenplay, Independent Spirit Award nomination, best foreign film, 2000, Evening Standard New York Film Critics Circle Award, best director, 1999, Panorama Jury Award, Sarajevo Film Festival, National Society of Film Critics Award, best director, 2000, ALFS Award nominations, British director of the year and British screenwriter of the year, London Critics Circle Film Awards, 2001, all for TopsyTurvy; Dilys Powell Award, London Critics Circle Film Awards, 2001; Golden Palm Award nomination, Cannes Film Festival, European Film Award nomination, best director, 2002, Golden Satellite Award nomination, best screenplay, 2003, all for All or Nothing.


CREDITS


Film Director:

Bleak Moments (also known as Loving Moments ), Contemporary, 1972.

Four Days in July, BBC, 1984.

High Hopes, Skouras, 1989.

Life Is Sweet, October Films, 1991.

"A Sense of History," Two Mikes Don't Make a Wright, October Films, 1992.

Mike Leigh's Naked (also known as Naked ), Fine Line, 1993.

Secrets & Lies (also known as Secrets et mensonges ), October Films, 1996.

Career Girls, October Films, 1997.

TopsyTurvy, October Films, 1999.

All or Nothing, United Artists, 2002.

Cinema 16, Momac, 2003.

Film Appearances:

Himself, Welcome to Hollywood, Phaedra, 1998.

Stage Director:

(And set designer) Little Malcolm and His Struggle against the Eunuchs, Unity Theatre, London, 1965.

The Box Play, Midlands Art Centre Theatre, Birmingham, England, 1965.

My Parents Have Gone to Carlisle, Midlands Art Centre Theatre, 1966.

The Last Crusade of the Five Little Nuns, Midlands Art Centre Theatre, 1966.

NENAA, Royal Shakespeare Company, Studio Theatre, StratforduponAvon, England, 1967.

The Knack, Royal Shakespeare Company, Theatregoround, 1967.

Individual Fruit Pies, East15 Acting School, London, 1968.

Down Here and Up There, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London, 1968.

Big Basil, Manchester Youth Theatre, Manchester, England, 1968.

Epilogue, Sedgely Park and De La Salle Colleges, Manchester, 1969.

Glum Victoria and the Lad with Specs, Manchester Youth Theatre, 1969.

Bleak Moments, Open Space Theatre, London, 1970.

The Life of Galileo, Bermuda Arts Festival, 1970.

A Rancid Pong, Basement Theatre, London, 1971.

Wholesome Glory, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, 1973.

Dick Whittington and His Cat, Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, 1973.

The Jaws of Death, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1973.

The Silent Majority, Bush Theatre, London, 1974.

Babies Grow Old, Royal Shakespeare Company, The Other Place, London, 1974.

Abigail's Party, Hampstead Theatre Club, London, 1977.

Ecstasy, Hampstead Theatre Club, 1979.

GoosePimples, Hampstead Theatre Club, then Garrick Theatre, London, both 1981.

Smelling a Rat, Hampstead Theatre Club, 1988.

Greek Tragedy, Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland, then Theatre Royal, StratforduponAvon, later Sydney, Australia, all 1990.

It's a Great Big Shame!, Theatre Royal, Stratford East, London, 1993.

Television Director; Movies:

Hard Labour (also known as Play for Today: Hard Labour ), BBC, 1973.

Nuts in May (also known as Play for Today: Nuts in May ), BBC, 1976.

Kiss of Death (also known as Play for Today: Kiss of Death ), BBC, 1977.

Abigail's Party (also known as Play for Today: Abigail's Party ), BBC, 1977.

Who's Who (also known as Play for Today: Who's Who ), BBC, 1978.

GrownUps (also known as BBC2 Playhouse: Grown Ups ), BBC, 1980.

Home Sweet Home (also known as Play for Today: Home Sweet Home ), BBC, 1981.

Meantime, BBC, 1983.

The Short and Curlies, BBC, 1987.

A Sense of History, Channel 4, 1992.

Television Director; Specials:

A Mug's Game, 1973.

The Permissive Society, BBC, 1975.

Knock for Knock, BBC, 1976.

Television Director; Episodic:

"The Birth of the 2001 F.A. Cup Final Goalie, " Five Minute Plays, 1982.

"Old Chums," Five Minute Plays, 1982.

"Probation," Five Minute Plays, 1982.

"A Light Snack," Five Minute Plays, 1982.

"Afternoon," Five Minute Plays, 1982.

Directed episodes of The Wednesday Play.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Inside the Academy Awards, TNT, 1997.

The Inside Reel: Digital Filmmaking, PBS, 2001.

Television Appearances; Episodic:

Conversations in World Cinema, Sundance Channel, 2000.

Breakfast, BBC, 2002.

Radio Director:

Director of the radio play Too Much of a Good Thing, banned from release, 1979.

WRITINGS


Screenplays:

Bleak Moments (also known as Loving Moments; from the play by Leigh), Contemporary, 1972.

Four Days in July, BBC, 1984.

High Hopes, Skouras, 1989.

Life Is Sweet, October Films, 1991.

Mike Leigh's Naked (also known as Naked ), Fine Line Features, 1993.

Secrets & Lies (also known as Secrets et mensonges ), October Films, 1996.

Career Girls, October Films, 1997.

TopsyTurvy, October Films, 1999.

All or Nothing, United Artists, 2002.

Stage Plays:

The Box Play, produced at Midlands Art Centre Theatre, Birmingham, England, 1965.

My Parents Have Gone to Carlisle, produced at Midlands Art Centre Theatre, 1966.

The Last Crusade of the Five Little Nuns, produced at Midlands Art Centre Theatre, 1966.

Waste Paper Guards, produced in Birmingham, 1966.

NENAA, produced by Royal Shakespeare Company, Studio Theatre, StratforduponAvon, England, 1967.

Individual Fruit Pies, produced at East15 Acting School, Loughton, England, 1968.

Down Here and Up There, produced at Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London, 1968.

Big Basil, produced at Manchester Youth Theatre, Manchester, England, 1968.

Epilogue, produced at Sedgely Park and De La Salle Colleges, Manchester, 1969.

Glum Victoria and the Lad with Specs, produced at Manchester Youth Theatre, 1969.

Bleak Moments, produced at Open Space Theatre, London, 1970.

A Rancid Pong, produced at Basement Theatre, London, 1971.

Wholesome Glory, produced at Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, 1973.

Dick Whittington and His Cat, produced at Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, 1973.

The Jaws of Death, produced at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 1973.

The Silent Majority, produced at Bush Theatre, London, 1974.

Babies Grow Old, produced by Royal Shakespeare Company, The Other Place, StratforduponAvon, 1974.

Abigail's Party, produced at Hampstead Theatre Club, London, 1977, published by Samuel French, 1979, published with GoosePimples, Penguin, 1983.

Ecstasy, produced at Hampstead Theatre Club, 1979, published with Smelling a Rat, Nick Hern Books, 1989.

GoosePimples, produced at Hampstead Theatre Club, then Garrick Theatre, London, both 1981, published by Samuel French, 1982, published with Abigail's Party, Penguin, 1983.

Smelling a Rat, produced at Hampstead Theatre Club, 1988, published with Ecstacy, Nick Hern Books, 1989.

Greek Tragedy, produced at Edinburgh Festival, then Theatre Royal, later Sydney, Australia, all 1990.

It's a Great Big Shame!, produced at Theatre Royal, Stratford East, London, 1993.

Television Movies:

Hard Labour (also known as Play for Today: Hard Labour ), BBC, 1973.

Nuts in May (also known as Play for Today: Nuts in May ), BBC, 1976.

Kiss of Death (also known as Play for Today: Kiss of Death ), BBC, 1977.

Abigail's Party (also known as Play for Today: Abigail's Party ), BBC, 1977.

Who's Who (also known as Play for Today: Who's Who ), BBC, 1978.

GrownUps (also known as BBC2 Playhouse: Grown Ups ), BBC, 1980.

Home Sweet Home (also known as Play for Today: Home Sweet Home ), BBC, 1981.

Meantime, BBC, 1983.

The Short and Curlies, BBC, 1987.

Television Specials:

A Mug's Game, 1973.

The Permissive Society, BBC, 1975.

Knock for Knock, BBC, 1976.

Television Episodes:

"The Birth of the 2001 F.A. Cup Final Goalie, " Five Minute Plays, 1982.

"Old Chums," Five Minute Plays, 1982.

"Probation," Five Minute Plays, 1982.

"A Light Snack," Five Minute Plays, 1982.

"Afternoon," Five Minute Plays, 1982.

Radio Plays:

Too Much of a Good Thing, banned from release, 1979.

OTHER SOURCES


Books:

Carney, Raymond, and Leonard Quart, The Films of Mike Leigh: Embracing the World, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Clements, Paul, The Improvised Play: The Work of Mike Leigh, Methuen, 1983.

Coveney, Michael, The World According to Mike Leigh, HarperCollins, 1996.

International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 2: Directors, St. James Press, 1996.

Mike Leigh, Interviews, University Press of Mississippi, 2000.

Periodicals:

Cineaste, fall, 1996, p. 53.

Empire, 1993, pp. 5456; October, 1997, pp. 156160.

Los Angeles Times, March 9, 1989.

New Statesman and Society, April 23, 1993, p. 26.

New York Times, February 19, 1989.

Premiere, 1996, pp. 8384.

The Times, February 19, 2000, pp. 2829, 3132.

Time, September 30, 1996, p. 66.

Washington Post, April 7, 1989.

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Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh (born 1943) is a British writer and director whose works have appeared on film, television, and the stage. Leigh's unusual methodology for writing his works—working in collaboration with the actors who will would portray his characters—has resulted in such critically acclaimed films as Naked and Secrets and Lies.

Mike Leigh was born February 20, 1943, in Salford, Lancashire, England, the son of Dr. Alfred Abraham and Phyllison Pauline (Cousin) Leigh. His physician father was of Jewish descent, and the family name had been changed from Lieberman to Leigh by the time Leigh was born. Dr. Leigh's practice was in a working-class neighborhood, and Leigh attended local schools like Salford Grammar School.

A fan of films from an early age, Leigh earned a scholarship to college but chose to study acting instead and in 1960 entered London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Leigh quit two years later because of the school's stifling atmosphere, although he did direct a student production of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker before he left.

After leaving the Royal Academy, Leigh continued his education in a number of creative arenas. From 1963 to 1964 he attended the Camberwell School of Art and the London International School of Film Technique. The following year he was a student at the Central School of Art and Design.

Began Career at Theater

From 1965 to 1966 Leigh was the associate director of the Midlands Art Centre for Young People, located in the industrial city of Birmingham. There he created three plays designed to be performed improv by Birmingham's innercity youth. Leigh's first play The Box Play was produced in 1965, and he also directed the production. In 1966 he formed the short-lived Dramagraph production company. Before the company went bankrupt he was able to direct a production of Little Malcolm and His Struggle against the Eunuchs, written by David Halliwell. Leigh did not confine himself to directing and writing for the stage; he fulfilled his acting ambitions by appearing with the Victoria Theatre at Stroke-on-Kent, Staffordshire in 1966. Leigh has continued to appeared in occasional films throughout his career.

In 1967-68 Leigh worked as an assistant director of the famous Royal Shakespeare Company. While there, he directed the troupe in production of Nenaa. He also worked in theater-related areas, lecturing in drama at Sedgley Park and de la Salle colleges in Manchester from 1968 to 1969 and the London Film School from 1970 to 1973.

It was while working in the theater in the 1960s that Leigh devised his uncommon scriptwriting method. After he had sufficient funding for a project, he asked his actors to create characters they wished to play, then worked with each actor individually on developing that character's entire life history. While Leigh had an idea of where he wanted the story to go, it was during rehearsals and improv that the whole script came together. Leigh refined this method while working in television and film later in his career. Though it sometimes was difficult to acquire funding without a finished script, Leigh eventually transcended this difficulty as producers realized that his works often gained an unusual polish and depth because of his writing method.

Made First Film

In 1972 Leigh wrote and directed his first feature-length film, Bleak Moments, after obtaining funding from Memorial Enterprises, a company run by actor Albert Finney, during a low point in the British film industry. Bleak Moments focuses on an unmarried woman, an accountant's clerk, who lives with her 29-year-old, mentally challenged sister. Although unplanned, Leigh subsequently took a break from film for 17 years, taking instead to the stage and to television, until funding once again became available for the kind of cinema projects he wished to do.

Much of Leigh's work for stage and television in the 1970s and early to mid-1980s featured themes and character types he would go on to explore in his later films. Many of his works of this period focus on the working and lower middle classes and concern unemployment and family life. Leigh did his first television drama in 1973, Hard Labour, a dark look at a working-class family. In 1977 he wrote and directed both a stage and television-movie version of Abigail's Party, about a party hostess forced to deal with a guest inconciderate enough to have a heart attack while attending Abigail's social gathering.

Other notable television movies by Leigh include Home Sweet Home (1982), about three postmen and their respective families, and Nuts in May, about a class conflict that occurs when middle-and working-class couples converge at a campsite. In 1977's The Kiss of Death an under-taker's apprentice discovers the fairer sex, while Grown Ups (1980) explores the problems in a working-class marriage which is threatened when the husband leaves his wife.

While Leigh's theater credits are not lengthy, several of his plays, such as Babies Grow Old (1974), The Silent Majority (1974), and Smelling a Rat (1988), explore similar themes. Produced in 1979, Leigh's Ecstasy is representative, focusing as it does on the way London's working-class women are abused and exploited. A number of Leigh's plays were produced in the United States after their author made a name for himself as a filmmaker.

Perhaps ironically, while Leigh often focused on left-leaning issues in his television movies and stage productions, he was not popular with British socialists and others of the political left because of his negative depiction of working-class people and their issues. Chris Savage King, in New Statesman & Society, praised Leigh's television work, however, writing that during the late 1970s and into the 1980s many dramatic films produced for British television subjected viewers to a lecture "on some aspect of social malaise or … [presented] an uncritical tour around upper-middle-class afflictions. Mike Leigh plays were special, because they were recognizable. The dramas were too close to home to be seen at any airy distance. And the characters were too insistently and pitilessly themselves to fall into a category of the oppressed."

Returned to Cinema

In 1988 Leigh received funding for his second feature film, High Hopes. This quiet comedy is set in London and takes place during the regime of conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The movie focuses on a free-spirited couple, Cyril and Shirley, who are working-class optimists by choice but with secret hopes and ambitions. The pair are forced to deal with Cyril's family: his rich sister and her husband and his problematic mother and her yuppie neighbors. While realistic, the play's naturalism is heightened for comic effect.

High Hopes received much critical praise and helped to introduce Leigh to movie audiences in the United States. Critic Jay Carr praised the film in the Boston Globe writing that "Leigh is an angry, humane battler trying to keep working-class hopes and ideals alive in what he sees as an increasingly selfish and soul-crushing Thatcherian England."

Films have remained Leigh's primary focus throughout much of his career since High Hopes, although he continued to venture into television and theater on occasion. In 1990, for example, he wrote the play Greek Tragedy (an Australian Comedy) on commission from Sydney's Belvoir Street Theatre to commemorate Australia's bicentenary. The play focuses on Greek immigrants to Australia while drawing on the history of Greek tragedies. Though Leigh's work was criticized by some in Australia, he learned much about the two cultures in the process.

In 1991 Leigh had a small hit on his hands after writing and directing the working-class family comedy Life Is Sweet. The story focuses on parents Wendy and Andy and their dreams. Andy, a chef, tries to start his own business selling food from a van while Wendy helps a family friend start a restaurant that soon fails. Their daughters have difficulties as well. Nicola, although intelligent, is a college dropout with an eating disorder while Natalie works as a plumber's assistant and hones her sarcastic wit on her family. Life Is Sweet chronicles the minutia of its characters' lives and, while there are depressing elements, Leigh shows optimism by the end.

Life Is Sweet was generally well received by critics. Vincent Canby of the New York Times wrote, "Leigh's films appear to be shapeless, devoid of poetry. They are unforgiving in their portrayal of squalor. They shuffle along on tired feet, seemingly as aimless and inarticulate as their characters. Yet at some point in each of his films there comes a transforming moment when the unbearable and the hopeless fuse together to create an explosion of recognition, sometimes of high, incredible hilarity."

Challenged Viewers with Naked

Leigh's next film, much darker and more bitter than Life Is Sweet, was 1993's Naked. Winning Leigh the Cannes Film Festival's award for best director, Naked shows its writer's conscious move away from domestic concerns. Naked primarily focuses on one character, Johnny (played by actor David Thewlis), who rants and raves his theories as he travels the streets of his working-class London neighborhood. Arriving in London with neither money nor a place to stay, Johnny ends up sleeping at his ex-girlfriend's apartment. A dynamic character, Johnny is violent and intelligent, both a victim and a victimizer.

While Naked was praised by critics as thought provoking, it was better received in the United States than in Great Britain. As Canby wrote in the New York Times, " Naked is as corrosive and sometimes as funny as anything Mr. Leigh has done to date. It's loaded with wild flights of absurd rhetoric and encounters with characters so eccentric they seem to have come directly from life. Nobody would dare imagine them."

Secrets and Lies Garnered Broad Appeal

While Naked attracted a larger audience for Leigh than had his earlier works, his next movie seemed almost main-stream. Secrets and Lies covers the domestic front; its story focuses on a black ophthalmologist named Hortense, who finds and meets her birth mother, a white, middle-aged, working-class woman named Cynthia. Cynthia hides the revelation from her family at first, but as her brother, his wife, and one of Cynthia's daughters find out the truth, the film focuses on how it changed their lives. Secrets and Lies appealed to a broader audience than any other film by Leigh, earning him Academy Award nominations for best direction and best screenplay.

Leigh's next two films forged a new path for the director. His 1997 film Career Girls focuses on two female friends from college who meet later in their lives. The movie looks at the women's pasts and their present state, presenting a portrait that is emotionally bleak. Perhaps because of its dark nature, Career Girls was not as well received as Leigh's other works.

Leigh did something very different with 1999's Topsy-Turvy, and was much more successful. Focusing on the collaboration between 19th-century composer W. S. Gilbert and librettist Arthur Sullivan, who collaborated on such popular light operas as The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado, Leigh's period drama begins in 1884 as the pair attempt to stage the newly completed Mikado. Topsy-Turvy, while very much a backstage story, nonetheless shows how Gilbert and Sullivan related to each other, as well as how their productions were staged. This film was generally well received by critics and audiences alike.

In 2002 Leigh returned to familiar territory with All or Nothing, which focuses on the intersecting lives of three dysfunctional working-class London families living in public housing. The couple at the center, Phil and Penny, have marital problems, and Phil cannot make enough as a cab driver to support his family. Their children are equally unhappy, but for differing reasons. Phil and Penny's neighbors include Maureen, whose teenage daughter is pregnant, and Carol, who is an alcoholic. All or Nothing, which takes place in one weekend, incorporated themes of despair and redemption, and of the need by humans to be loved.

Although films such as Secrets and Lies and Topsy-Turvy have made Leigh a household name in England and established a strong following in the United States, other of his films have been viewed as subversive. With each new film, each new approach, he runs the same risk of negative critical reaction, even in his native country. However, Leigh's motivation has not been fitting in with the movie mainstream. As he told Desson How of the Washington Post, "My ongoing preoccupation is with families, relationships, parents, children, sex, work, surviving, being born and dying. I'm totally intuitive, emotional, subjective, empirical, instinctive. I'm not an intellectual filmmaker. Primarily my films are a response to the way people are, the way things are as I experience them. In a way, they are acts of taking the temperature."

Books

Pendergast, Tom, and Sara Pendergast, editors, International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, St. James Press, 2000.

Periodicals

American Theatre, May-June, 1995.

Associated Press, October 30, 1991.

Boston Globe, March 31, 1989; January 21, 2000.

Calgary Herald, February 18, 2000.

Christian Science Monitor, September 7, 1993.

Cineaste, Fall 1996; Winter 2002.

Financial Times (London, England), October 12, 2002.

Independent (London, England), August 8, 1990; March 17, 1991; May 18, 2002; October 12, 2002.

New Statesman & Society, April 23, 1993.

New Times Los Angeles, January 13, 2000.

New York Times, September 24, 1988; February 19, 1989; April 10, 1992; December 16, 1993; September 22, 1996; November 14, 1999; October 20, 2002.

Time, September 30, 1996.

Time Out, September 25, 2002.

Washington Post, December 27, 1991; January 30, 1994. □

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"Mike Leigh." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mike-leigh

Leigh, Mike

Leigh, Mike (1943– ) English film director, playwright, and screenwriter. His debut feature, Bleak Moments (1971), established his reputation for innovative social realism. After a long break, Leigh made the acclaimed High Hopes (1988), and the similarly satirical Life is Sweet (1990). Naked (1993) and Secrets and Lies (1995) gained him an international recognition. Other films include Topsy-Turvy (1999).

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