Film at Lincoln Center announces Human Conditions: The Films of Mike Leigh, a retrospective of the widely lauded director’s career, running from May 27-June 8.
For over half a century, Mike Leigh has directed films suffused with emotion and the realities of working-class struggle. From his debut feature, Bleak Moments (1971); to his ’70s television work for the BBC; to the breakout mid-career successes of Life Is Sweet (1990), Naked (1993), and Secrets and Lies (1996); through the historical films that have marked his output more recently, like Mr. Turner (2014) and Peterloo (2018), a Mike Leigh film always has an unmistakable energy and feeling for the triumphs and tragedies of everyday life. Leigh is one of world cinema’s most ardent, relentless humanists, and one of the great directors of actors: his oeuvre abounds with spellbinding, bracingly multilayered portrayals from some of the UK’s finest screen performers of the past 50 years, in no small part due to Leigh’s unique working methods. Join Film at Lincoln Center as we look back and celebrate Leigh’s singular career with the most comprehensive retrospective of his work in New York to date, featuring new digital restorations.
As a special highlight for the retrospective, three of the director’s films will be presented in 35mm: All or Nothing, Leigh’s eighth theatrical feature, chronicling the lives and working-class struggles of three proletarian families in London; NYFF42 selection and Golden Lion–winner Vera Drake, featuring Imelda Staunton in her Oscar-nominated performance as the titular character, helping women with unwanted pregnancies in early-1950s Britain; and NYFF46 selection Happy-Go-Lucky, Leigh’s irresistible 2008 character study centered on Poppy (played with star-making sparkle by Sally Hawkins), a single, 30-year-old kindergarten teacher whose unwaveringly upbeat embrace of life is reflected in the film’s title.
The series includes six additional NYFF selections: Secrets & Lies, Leigh’s 1996 Palme d’Or–winner starring Brenda Blethyn, who also won that year’s Best Actress Award at Cannes; Naked, which earned two Cannes awards: Best Director and Best Actor for revelatory lead David Thewlis; Topsy-Turvy, a one-of-a-kind backstage musical about the creation of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s 1885 opera The Mikado; Mr. Turner, a portrait of a great artist (J.M.W. Turner, rendered by Timothy Spall) and his time, and a rich, funny, moving film about art and its creation; High Hopes, a narratively surprising and incisive work of social realism; and Another Year, which observes four seasons in the lives of a longtime married couple, their 30-year-old son, and the wife’s troubled work colleague (portrayed by a heartbreaking Lesley Manville).
Please note: Masks are required for all staff, audiences, and filmmakers at all times in public spaces. Proof of full vaccination is not required for FLC audiences, but is strongly recommended. Visit filmlinc.org/safety for more information.
Organized by Dan Sullivan and Madeline Whittle. Co-presented with Janus Films.
Tickets for the retrospective are on sale now and are $15; $12 for students, seniors (62+), and persons with disabilities; and $10 for FLC Members. Become a member today! See more and save with a 3+ Film Package or All-Access Passes ($79 for General Public and $35 for Students). Learn more at www.filmlinc.org.
FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS
All films will take place at the Walter Reade Theater (165 W 65th St).
All or Nothing
Mike Leigh, 2002, UK/France, 128m, 35mm
English, Arabic, and French with English subtitles
The lives of three proletarian families in London form the fabric of Leigh’s eighth theatrical feature, another vividly traced and superlatively acted portrait of everyday working-class struggle. Cabdriver Phil (Timothy Spall) and his grocery-cashier wife Penny (Lesley Manville) deal with the fallout of their heavyset son’s (James Corden) heart attack, while Penny’s colleague Maureen (Ruth Sheen) contends with her daughter’s unplanned pregnancy; meanwhile, Phil’s fellow driver Ron’s (Paul Jesson) homelife grows ever more fraught as his teenage daughter (Sally Hawkins) seemingly has eyes for two different boys, one of whom may be stalking her. As ever, Leigh’s direction of his exceptional ensemble cast is as skillful as the film’s drama is, at times painfully, truthful.
Tuesday, May 31 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, June 1 at 2:00pm
Mike Leigh, 2010, UK/USA, 129m
Brimming with joy and tragedy, old wounds and new beginnings, Another Year observes four seasons in the lives of longtime married couple Tom and Gerri (the marvelous Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen); their 30-year-old bachelor son Joe (Oliver Maltman); and Gerri’s single, middle-aged work colleague Mary (Lesley Manville). A houseguest so frequent she’s practically family, Mary at first seems a harmless sad sack, drinking too much and bemoaning her failures in life and love. But as time passes, and summer gives way to fall, Mary’s depression grows, and her behavior becomes ever more erratic. A typically wry, wise, carefully observed portrait of the human experience, Another Year finds Leigh at the top of his game, and Manville—in her seventh collaboration with the director—at the top of hers. By turns abrasive and fragile, hilarious and finally heartbreaking, Mary emerges as one of Leigh’s most complex and memorable characters—a rare gift to an actress and an audience. An NYFF48 selection.
Monday, May 30 at 7:00pm
Wednesday, June 1 at 5:00pm
Mike Leigh, 1971, UK, 111m
“This film is a masterpiece, plain and simple, and that is a statement I doubt I will ever have cause to revise,” claimed Roger Ebert in 1972, before he (or most of the world) knew the name Mike Leigh. Many masterpieces later, Leigh’s debut remains as nuanced and humanistic as his later efforts. An eloquent study of unexamined lives, Bleak Moments concerns a repressed office assistant (Anne Raitt) and her painful courtship of a guarded schoolteacher (Eric Allan). Combining kitchen-sink realism with the emotional incisiveness of Cassavetes, Leigh developed the script in collaboration with his actors—a technique now intrinsic to his process. 2K Restoration. A Janus Films release.
Friday, May 27 at 4:00pm
Saturday, May 28 at 9:00pm
Friday, June 3 at 1:00pm
Mike Leigh, 1997, UK/France, 87m
Two former flatmates reunite after six years apart in Leigh’s masterful late-’90s comedy-drama. Annie (Lynda Steadman) heads to London to visit Hannah (Katrin Cartlidge), and the two set about catching up, comparing notes on the directions their lives have taken since they last saw each other. We then flash back to the circumstances of their first meeting, and Leigh toggles between past and present to conjure the women’s shared history in all its complex twists and turns. Deliberately narrower in scope than some of Leigh’s more overtly ensemble-based films, Career Girls zeros in on the two women at its core to arrive at a captivating portrayal of female friendship and the loves and regrets that have marked it along the way. 4K Restoration. A Janus Films release.
A Sense of History
Mike Leigh, 1992, UK, 26m
In this short, Jim Broadbent stars as the 23rd Earl of Leete, who invites a documentary crew into his home for a tour of the estate, which slowly turns strange as the crew realizes there’s something amiss about it all. A Janus Films release.
Sunday, June 5 at 8:00pm
Tuesday, June 7 at 6:30pm
Mike Leigh, 2008, UK, 118m, 35mm
You’ve never met a woman in bloom quite as fresh as Poppy Cross, the radiant North Londoner whose unwaveringly upbeat embrace of life is reflected in the title of Leigh’s irresistible 2008 character study. Played with star-making sparkle by Leigh stock-company player Sally Hawkins (whose performance earned her the Best Actress Silver Bear at the 2008 Berlinale), Poppy is a single, 30-year-old elementary school teacher whose relentless optimism is not always welcome. She has to deal with a child being bullied, and she’s unnerved while taking driving lessons from a bitter, racist, and damaged instructor (a wonderful Eddie Marsan), as antisocial as Poppy is trusting and open. Happy-Go-Lucky revealed the British master of ensemble dysfunction in a rich, new creative phase, where delight and gratitude are emotions to inspire, rather than to doubt. An NYFF46 selection.
Sunday, May 29 at 9:00pm
Friday, June 3 at 3:30pm
Mike Leigh, 1988, UK, 108m
Leigh’s second theatrical feature, a narratively surprising and incisive work of social realism, follows Cyril (Phil Davis) and Shirley (Ruth Sheen), a left-wing working-class couple, as they interact with a range of characters across the spectrum of classes in English society and look after Cyril’s aging mother (Edna Doré). As the film proceeds, Leigh presents layer upon layer of complication as we encounter a man (Jason Watkins) who has come to town in search of work, Cyril’s nouveau riche sister Valerie (Heather Tobias) and her adulterous husband, and Cyril’s mother’s well-to-do next-door neighbors (Lesley Manville and David Bamber). Tensions flare as Cyril’s mother’s descent into dementia becomes more pronounced and Shirley entertains the idea of having a baby, with Leigh laying bare both the futile striving of the lower-middle class and the oblivious grotesquerie of the upper-middle class. An NYFF26 selection. 2K Restoration. A Janus Films release.
Saturday, May 28 at 2:00pm
Tuesday, May 31 at 4:00pm
Sunday, June 5 at 5:30pm
Life Is Sweet
Mike Leigh, 1990, UK, 103m
A comic yet gently melancholic story with food and symmetry on its mind and a cast of Leigh all-stars, Life Is Sweet twins the humble efforts of good-natured chef Andy (Jim Broadbent) to open his own mobile snack bar—sold to him by his drunken friend Patsy (Stephen Rea)—with the disastrous nouvelle-cuisine pretensions of the grandiose Aubrey (Timothy Spall), who opens his own bistro, The Regret Rien, where Andy’s cheerful wife Wendy (Alison Steadman) goes to work as a waitress. Meanwhile, there’s a subplot involving Andy and Wendy’s daughters: tomboy plumber Natalie (Clare Skinner), who seems to take after her father, and unhappy bulimic feminist Nicola (Jane Horrocks), who gets off on having her boyfriend (David Thewlis) lick chocolate off her breasts. One of Leigh’s funniest and most tender films is also one of his most optimistic about family ties. 2K Restoration. A Janus Films release.
Monday, May 30 at 1:00pm
Friday, June 3 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, June 8 at 1:00pm
Mike Leigh, 1983, UK, 107m
An episodic comic drama originally produced for Britain’s Channel 4, Meantime centers on the Pollocks, an East End–dwelling working-class family trying to keep the lights on amid the recession during Thatcher’s premiership. Mavis (Pam Ferris) works while her ornery husband Frank (Jeff Robert) and their sons Colin (Tim Roth) and Mark (Phil Daniels) collect unemployment; meanwhile, Mavis’s sister Barbara (Marion Bailey) and her husband (Alfred Molina) enjoy the comforts of life in the comparatively posh suburb of Chigwell. We follow the characters across a host of familiar settings—pubs, flats, the unemployment office—as they just try to get by, with Leigh deftly interweaving these scenes to produce a dimensional and sobering portrait of the indignities of life on the dole. 2K Restoration. A Janus Films release.
The Short and Curlies
Mike Leigh, 1987, UK, 17m
A woman (Alison Steadman) navigates a romance with a man (David Thewlis) who never ceases cracking jokes, while also reporting back on it to her adoring hairdresser mother. A Janus Films release.
Wednesday, June 1 at 8:00pm
Saturday, June 4 at 9:00pm
Mike Leigh, 2014, UK/France/Germany/USA, 150m
Leigh’s 12th theatrical feature is certainly a portrait of a great artist and his time, but it is also a film about one of the oldest of human problems: other people. Cannes Best Actor–winner Timothy Spall’s grunting, unkempt J.M.W. Turner is always either working or thinking about working. During the better part of his interactions with patrons, peers, and even his own children, he punches the clock and makes perfunctory conversation, while his mind is clearly on the inhuman realm of the luminous. After the death of his beloved father (Paul Jesson), Turner creates a way station of domestic comfort with a cheerful widow (Marion Bailey), and he maintains his artistic base at his family home, kept in working order by the undemonstrative and ever-compliant Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson). But his stays in both houses are only rest periods between endless and sometimes punishing quests for a closer and closer vision of light, in this rich, funny, moving, and extremely clear-eyed film about art and its creation. An NYFF52 selection.
Sunday, June 5 at 2:00pm
Wednesday, June 8 at 3:30pm
Mike Leigh, 1993, UK, 131m
Dancing on a razor’s edge between the sordid and the hilarious, between violence and tenderness, Mike Leigh’s astonishing fourth theatrical feature (for which he won Best Director at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival) takes us into the complex world of a London drifter named Johnny (David Thewlis, Best Actor at Cannes). We follow Johnny as he undertakes a true journey to the end of the night, encountering a succession of familiar and alien faces, ranting, raving, and generally behaving badly all along the way. As the golden-tongued antihero, a repugnant sadist with quicksilver charm, Thewlis is a revelation. Arguably Leigh’s most visually striking film, and perhaps his most influential in its bold portrayal of a violently, explosively flawed yet nevertheless magnetic protagonist, Naked endures as one of the great film portraits of a lost soul. An NYFF31 selection. 4K Restoration. A Janus Films release.
Friday, May 27 at 7:00pm (Q&A with Mike Leigh)
Friday, June 3 at 9:00pm
Tuesday, June 7 at 9:00pm
Mike Leigh, 2018, UK, 154m
Produced in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre—in which a crowd of 60,000 Mancunians assembled in St. Peter’s Fields to demand parliamentary reform and expanded voting rights, only for government-backed militias to charge the protestors, yielding a still-disputed number of casualties—Leigh’s most recent feature is arguably his most ambitious treatment of British history. A powerfully evocative portrayal of working-class struggle prior to the Industrial Revolution, Peterloo comprehensively follows a coalition of workers, journalists, and upper-class intellectuals as they seek to cultivate class consciousness and demand better working and living conditions from the state, leading up to the violent suppression they face on St. Peter’s Fields. A long-gestating passion project for Leigh, Peterloo vividly paints the protestors’ struggle and illustrates the by-turns inspiring and tragic sequence of events that led to crucial reforms within British society.
Saturday, June 4 at 5:30pm
Monday, June 6 at 2:00pm
Secrets & Lies
Mike Leigh, 1996, UK/France, 142m
The acclaimed winner of the 1996 Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or, Mike Leigh’s mid-’90s masterpiece cemented his status as the poet laureate of modern family life. The story concerns Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn, awarded Best Actress at Cannes), a working-class white woman whose personal and interpersonal lives are transformed when she learns that a Black optometrist is the child she gave up for adoption 27 years prior. Created, like Leigh’s other films, after long months of intensely collaborative improvisation, Secrets & Lies is remarkable for its lived-in warmth and humor, and above all for its unflinching honesty in capturing the everyday evasions and deceptions that can define our lives. An NYFF34 selection. 2K Restoration. A Janus Films release.
Saturday, May 28 at 5:30pm (Q&A with Mike Leigh)
Tuesday, May 31 at 1:00pm
Wednesday, June 8 at 7:00pm
Mike Leigh, 1999, UK/USA, 160m
English, French, German, Italian, and Japanese with English subtitles
Although best known for his kitchen-sink portraits of the British middle and working classes, Leigh delivered arguably his greatest turn with this lavish, one-of-a-kind backstage musical about the creation of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s 1885 opera The Mikado. Despite the atypical story and setting, however, Leigh once again devised the film through his patented improvisational method, working intensively with the actors (including the brilliant Jim Broadbent as Gilbert, Allan Corduner as Sullivan, and Timothy Spall as G&S muse Richard Temple) over a six-month rehearsal process to develop their characters, the narrative, and an understanding of the period. The result is an uncannily perceptive and acutely personal film about the hard work of artistic creation, capped by a glorious staging of The Mikado itself featuring Oscar-winning costumes and makeup. An NYFF37 selection. 2K Restoration. A Janus Films release.
Sunday, May 29 at 5:00pm (Q&A with Mike Leigh)
Monday, May 30 at 3:30pm
Mike Leigh, 2004, UK/France, 125m, 35mm
In this shattering drama about the unintended consequences of virtue, Vera Drake (a superb, Oscar-nominated performance by Imelda Staunton)—hardworking cleaning woman, fond mother of two, friendly neighbor—has a secret: she helps out women who find themselves “in trouble” with unwanted pregnancies. As this illegal activity comes to light, its ramifications tear apart her family and the world around her. Leigh abjures satire for compassion and moral complexity, employing a meticulously controlled realism in portraying a precise historical moment—Great Britain in the early 1950s, still shell-shocked from World War II, pulling itself up out of drabness and shortage. In the process, the values of decency, stoical restraint, and class solidarity are put to the test, the admirable commingled with the hypocritical. An NYFF42 selection.
Sunday, May 29 at 2:00pm
Tuesday, May 31 at 9:15pm