A shop assistant, her cook husband, and their twin daughters ponder their lives over a few weeks in a working-class suburb north of London.A shop assistant, her cook husband, and their twin daughters ponder their lives over a few weeks in a working-class suburb north of London.A shop assistant, her cook husband, and their twin daughters ponder their lives over a few weeks in a working-class suburb north of London.
The parents are amicable beings: the mother Wendy a chirpy, motherly character (very well-acted), the father incredibly laid-back, yet hard-working at a job he hates. Their two daughters are like chalk and cheese: Natalie, a plumber, is quiet and practical (I thought she was a boy at first: hers is a curiously unsexed character) while Nicola is a complete mess.
The ugliness of true life is shown beside its mundane beauty. The shocking scenes of Nicola's self-torture (she is a secret bulimic) are juxtaposed with scenes of the mother dusting, and the ordinary cheerfulness of the rest of the family. A bizarre family friend, Aubrey, and his dream of running his own restaurant provide a subplot of sorts, but the domestic drama is far more interesting.
Horricks gives a startling good performance as the disturbed Nicola: she drips with self-loathing, but inspires pity. The most poignant scene is one in which her boyfriend, no Einstein himself, becomes fed up with her intense sexual demands, and asks her to prove her intelligence by having a real conversation with him. Nicola, whom we know is intelligent, cannot bring herself to do this: she is compelled to always show herself in the worst light. She can only mutter 'I AM intelligent' in a voice of despair. The boyfriend departs, leaving her in a state of even more intense self-hatred and depression. It is hard-hitting scenes like this one which stick in the memory.
The mother, Wendy, who appears a scatterbrain at first, emerges as a dignified, wise and compassionate woman, as she responds in a touching scene to her troubled daughter Nicola.
It's such a plain-looking film, yet it is striking because of the intensity of its characters, and the honesty of director Mike Leigh's observations. Although life is hard for the family, it is also sweet. That, I think, is Leigh's message.
- Sep 5, 1999