There is no way to truly do justice to the decades of incredible theatrical, televisual and cinematic work of the genius that is Mike Leigh. He has, since the 1960s, worked tirelessly creating: drama, comedy, pathos, empathy, love, hatred, politics, harmony, conflict, nihilism and hope through an orchestra of characters and creative endeavour.
Mike Leigh is a true artist. He has not only been involved in innumerable film, TV shows, and plays but also created his own production modus operandi in the process. He is rightly well regarded for working intimately with his actors organically creating character and stories from the kernel of an emotion or idea. His characters are developed over months of painstaking preparation and rehearsal often featuring representations of the working or under-classes. There are no superheroes or special effects but rather raw emotion and feelings within his body of work.
With Mike Leigh’s latest film Peterloo (2018) premiering at recent film festivals worldwide, it seems timely to look back on some of his best work. These are some of his finest works as they have much to say about humanity, gender, politics, comedy, society, life, and death. They are also very entertaining in that inimitable “Mike Leigh” style, he has carved out all on his own.
Abigail’s Party (1977)
Opening as a stage play in 1977, the seminal tragic-comedy Abigail’s Party sold out for months at the Hampstead Theatre when first released. A filmed TV version was released later too much acclaim that year and starred: Alison Steadman, Janine Duvitski, John Salthouse, Thelma Whiteley and Tim Stern. It’s a comedy of crumbling relationships featuring the passive aggressive clashes between the aspirational classes. The performances, notably from Steadman as the brash and formidable Beverley, are astute, over-the-top but somehow hilariously nuanced too. Moreover, the barbed dialogue and bitchy asides are perfectly delivered during a dinner party that, once seen, will have you laughing throughout, yet somehow leave you feeling quite sad by the end.