Play for Today (1970–1984)
6 user 1 critic

Hard Labour 

A quiet and put-upon house cleaner breaks her silence.




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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Mrs. Thornley
Clifford Kershaw ...
Jim Thornley
Vanessa Harris ...
Mrs. Stone
Cyril Varley ...
Mr. Stone
Linda Beckett ...
Alan Erasmus ...
Rowena Parr ...
June Whittaker ...
Mrs. Rigby (as June Whitaker)
Paula Tilbrook ...
Mrs. Thornley's friend
Keith Washington ...
Mr. Shaw
Louis Raynes ...


Mrs. Thornley works very hard without notice or appreciation. Every day she keeps her own house clean, attends to her husband and unmarried daughter, Ann, then cleans other women's houses. She looks tired and has little affect. She does have a married son and a daughter-in-law who's chatty and pleasant. Mrs. Thornley's husband works nights, except for Saturdays, when he expects conjugal attention. Ann's worried about pregnancy and talks to her mum about labor and childbirth. Later, Mrs. Thornley goes to confession at her parish church, and she makes an extraordinary revelation. Written by <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Comedy | Drama





Release Date:

12 March 1973 (UK)  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Featured in Imagine: The One and Only Mike Leigh (2014) See more »

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User Reviews

Not a feel-good film in any way whatsoever
22 August 2014 | by See all my reviews

Hard Labour was a TV film made for the 'Play For Today' series on the BBC. Mike Leigh was one of the most notable directors for this particular format and would go on to contribute the stonewall classics Nuts in May and Abigail's Party. Where those two had quite a bit of social commentary, they were comedies; Hard Labour, on the other hand, is anything but. It is instead a relentlessly depressing slice of life drama about the miserable lives of several working class characters in a bleak northern town.

It's a pretty experimental film in some ways, as it basically hardly has a plot of any kind; instead it adopts the approach that Ken Loach introduced with Up the Junction (1965), which he contributed for the BBC series 'The Wednesday Play', which was a format that predated 'Play For Today'. Loach's film also had really no story but was a slice of life of several working class people; with Hard Labour, Leigh did a similar thing but in a much more grimly downbeat manner. Both films do share a focus on extreme realism, with a complete absence of gloss of any kind. While I respect what Leigh was trying to do here, I can't honestly say I enjoyed this very much at all. It was too much of a downer, although I suppose that was the point. The cast all give good naturalistic performances, with especial praise due to a young Ben Kingsley, who was particularly good as a cabby who has a side line in connecting women with backstreet abortionists.

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