on the 20th February, 1943 in Salford, director Mike Leigh had
a Jewish upbringing, although he now claims to be an atheist.
shooting to fame in 1971 with his brilliant debut film 'Bleak
Moments', which won the
Grand Prix at both the Locarno and Chicago Film Festivals, Mike
had directed the 1965 stage play, 'Little
Malcolm and His Struggle Against The Eunuchs'. Indeed,
it was in the theatre that Mike crafted his trade, writing the
1965 plays 'Waste Paper Guards'
and 'The Box Play'.
differing success, Mike also directed the plays 'My Parents
Have Gone To Carlisle / The Last Crusade of the Five Little Nuns'
(1966), 'Neena' (1967), 'Individual Fruit Pies', 'Down
Here And Up There', 'Big Basil', 'Glum Victoria and The
Lad with Specs' (all 1968) and 'Epilogue' (1969).
1970 his play, 'Bleak Moments', won rave reviews and very
quickly Mike found himself recreating the story as a cinematic
film. The reaction was phenomenal and Mike soon found himself
moving into television, directing "A Mug's Game"
('72) and 'Hard Labour' ('73).
to theatre, Mike directed the stage plays, 'A Rancid Pong'
(1971), 'Wholesome Glory', 'The Jaws Of Death' and
'Dick Whittington and His Cat' (all 1973). In 1974 he directed
the stage play 'The Silent Majority' before his 'Babies
Grow Old' play was performed by the RSC.
further into television, his films 'Permissive Society'
('75), 'Nuts In May' ('76), 'Knock For Knock' ('76),
'The Kiss Of Death' ('77), 'Abigail's Party' ('77),
and 'Who's Who' ('78) won him massive praise as did his
1979 Hampstead Theatre play 'Ecstacy'.
television films, 'Grown-Ups' (1980), 'Meantime' ('81),
'Home Sweet Home' and 'The Five Minute Films' (both
'82) followed as did the Hampstead and Garrick Theatre productions
directed both 'Four Days In July' (1984) and 'The Short
And Curlies' ('87) for television whilst also enjoying success
with his plays 'Smelling A Rat' ('88) and 'Greek Tragedy'
('89), however it was on a larger scale that Mike needed to express
1988, Mike directed a funny yet touching movie that indicated
he had not lost touch with his Salford routes. 'High Hopes'
was a cinematic reaction to Margaret Thatcher's overhaul of British
society and despite the film's hilarious, silly moments Mike was
able to deliver a realistic and poignant message.
1990, Mike directed his unsettling but sweet-tempered 'Life Is
Sweet' movie, which starred his wife, Alison Steadman (famed for
her portrayal of Beverly in his 'Abigail's Party') and
Manchester actress Jane
Mikes Don't Make a Wright', and 'A Sense of History' saw
Mike return to television work before venturing on what was his
most successful year to date.
brought Mike Leigh the kind of success he could only have dreamed
of as a young Mancunian child. His Stratford-upon-Avon stage play,
'It's A Great Big Shame', was performed in the same year
that he was given the O.B.E., just one of many coveted awards
he was to collect that year.
The sad black comedy, 'Naked', saw Mike Leigh crowned as
'The Best Director' at the Cannes Film Festival, whilst David
Thewlis won a whole raft of awards both at Cannes and also in
Hollywood for his performance of Johnny, a witty and intelligent
loveable rogue. The
film opens during a violent sexual encounter in a Manchester back-alley
before Johnny steals a car and flees to London.
1996, Mike returned with the truely fascinating 'Secrets &
Lies', which won the 'Palme d'Or' (The Best Film) at Cannes.
As with all his films, the audience relate to the characters in
the movie as if they have known them for years. The long-take
of Brenda Blethyn (Cynthia) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Hortense)
in 'Secrets & Lies' proves that Mike Leigh's unique
filming technique is just astounding.
a strong role as a white mother re-united with the black daughter
she placed for adoption as a child, Blethyn won the 'Best Actress
Award' at Cannes. The film was nominated for five Oscars and won
three BAFTAs - a real testament to the Mancunian director.
his 1997 film 'Career Girls', Mike continues with his somewhat
sentimental but strong characterization approach. Starring his
wife, Lynda Steadman (as Annie), and Katrin Cartlidge (Hannah),
the movie blends comedy and drama whilst following the two characters
as they reunite on a train, six years after graduating from university
together. The film lacked the big production figures of both his
previous film and the blockbuster which was to follow:
'Topsy Turvy', his latest movie, Mike Leigh follows a year
in the life of the celebrated comic opera partnership Gilbert
and Sullivan, painting a wonderfully warm-hearted picture of life
in the Victorian theatre. True to style, the brilliant director
takes a close look at the individual characters that make the
movie the hugely enjoyable cinematic masterpiece that it is.
Turvey' has already won the 'Best Picture' and 'Best Director'
awards at both the Venice and New York Film Festivals, and has
also been nominated for four Oscars including 'Best Art Direction'
and 'Best Original Screenplay' (the others two being 'Best Costume
Design' and 'Best Make-Up').
unique way of working with his actors is famed throughout the
cinema world. Extensive one-to-ones and hours of improvisation
allow him to structure the script during filming. Maveric or genius?
Mike Leigh certainly does things differently!
his films are not to everyone's tastes, Mike Leigh's films have
been hailed as a kind of "neo-Marxist Dickens", chronicling
the ups and downs of British working-class life. You can take
Mike Leigh out of Manchester but you will never take Manchester
out of Mike Leigh!