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Mike Leigh, uncompromising filmmaker who would later go on to reach
with "Naked" and "Secrets and Lies", showed all his potential power in
early made-for-TV film about an undertaker's assistant called Trevor.
This strange boy lives in a limbo between two worlds - the incredibly shallow and empty everyday life of English working-class youngsters and the terribly serious world of death and the dying. At first one gets the impression that he is half-witted, saying barely anything and occasionally grinning like an idiot.
When death is close, however, as in the scene with the sick granny, Trevor is transfigured: he knows exactly what to do, becomes authoritative and will not suffer priggishness. On the other hand, this intimate knowledge of death makes him unable to bear with the silly but necessary rituals of life, as shown in the "kiss of death" scene, where he is alone with a girl. This scene shows Leigh's supreme mastery of dramatic tension, as it goes on for about five minutes without the characters saying anything remotely sensible, but one feels that their every move is charged with some subliminal meaning.
Even if you do not care for deeper meanings, you might very well like this film. Leigh manages to be entertaining and humorous as always, showing much sympathy for his characters despite their unlikeable nature.
I saw this BBC Play for Today when it came out in 1977 and I have never ever forgotten it. I was a college at the time and the following day EVERYONE was talking about it and imitating one of the girl's need to ask her targeted bloke "Do you fancy me? Do you think I'm pretty?" (I don't know the character's name as it was SO long ago). JUST BRILLIANT!! It was a high point in TV at the time and I can count on one hand the number of films or comedy programmes which have made me laugh so much since - the rest were probably the other Mike Leigh plays (Nuts in May & Abigail's Party). The Kiss of Death is typically British in its style and humour focussing on the lives of some very ordinary Northern English youth working in an undertakers. I would give anything to be able to see it again but frustratingly I can't find it available in the UK, although Amazon in the US sells it on VHS, which seems crazy as it's such an archetypally British product! If anyone reading this knows where to get a PAL copy on VHS please let me know by email!
This is another in several teleplays Mike Leigh devised and directed
for the BBC series 'Play for Today'. He contributed the justifiably
celebrated two classics Nuts in May and Abigail's Party to this format.
The Kiss of Death isn't in the same league as either of those two to be
fair but it's still a pretty interesting bit of work. Like a few other
Leigh films it doesn't really have a plot and is more a slice of life
where little actually happens. It focuses on an undertaker's assistant
from a northern British town. He is a social misfit who is matched up
with a girl who works in a shoe shop. They embark on a relationship of
The presentation goes for extreme realism, characterised by the dreary and mundane everyday events that typify the lives of the small cast. What makes it work mostly is in the believable acting performances, particularly from David Threlfall who plays the central character. He would go onto considerable small-screen fame twenty-five years later as the character Frank Gallagher from the TV series 'Shameless'. He's very good here as a strange character who is partly a gibbering half-wit and partly aloof from the everyday trivialities that others engage in. The film itself is a low-key yet engaging and should interest fans of Leigh.
The film Mike Leigh at one time called his most radical is another of the director's patented slice-of-life portraits: not quite comedy, not quite drama, and almost documentary-like in its detached presentation of lower middle-class English habits and behavior. Perhaps what makes it radical is the general absence of adult characters: Leigh's young protagonist, Trevor, is a gangly, maladjusted teenager working as a mortuary assistant, dressing corpses and driving the hearse. His social phobias render him all but catatonic in mixed company, even more so after his awkward introduction to Linda, a gum chewing shoe store clerk who can't seem to draw Trevor out of his shell (and therefore loses interest in him). Nothing much happens, which is usually the whole point of a Mike Leigh feature. The film is drab, gray, hopelessly British, and would almost be amusing if it weren't so closely (and accurately) observed.
Director Mike Leigh is a master at showing the average Englishman at work and play,and this early work of his is no exception.Trevor is your basic social misfit who works as an undertakers assistant and spends his off time trying to find romance.None of Mike Leigh's actors look like actors,and therein lies the fascination with them.His characters are just real people living their lives,and Mr. Leigh has created a window where we can all take a peek at them,without them knowing about it.Always fascinating and never boring,this is a film for anyone who isn't going to feel cheated if something doesn't blow up every 5 minutes or so.
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