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Writer / Director of the Week: MIKE LEIGH

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Age: 77

Birthday: 20th February

Mike Leigh is an English film and theatre director, screenwriter and playwright. He studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), East 15 Acting School and further at the Camberwell School of Art, the Central School of Art and Design and the London School of Film Technique. He began his career as a theatre director and playwright in the mid-1960s, before transitioning to making televised plays and films for BBC Television in the 1970s and '80s.

Leigh's most notable works are the Oscar-nominated, BAFTA- and Palme d'Or-winning drama Secrets & Lies (1996), the Golden Lion-winning working-class drama Vera Drake (2004), and the Palme d'Or-nominated biopic Mr. Turner (2014). Other well-known films include the Gilbert and Sullivan biographical film Topsy-Turvy (1999). His stage plays include Smelling A Rat, It's A Great Big Shame, Greek Tragedy, Goose-Pimples, Ecstasy and Abigail's Party.

Abigail's Party is a play for stage and television, devised and directed in 1977 by Mike Leigh. It is a suburban situation comedy of manners, and a satire on the aspirations and tastes of the new middle class that emerged in Britain in the 1970s. The play developed in lengthy improvisations during which Mike Leigh explored the characters with the actors, but did not always reveal the incidents that would occur during the play.

Leigh is known for his lengthy rehearsal and improvisation techniques with actors to build characters and narrative for his films. His purpose is to capture reality and present "emotional, subjective, intuitive, instinctive, vulnerable films." His films and stage plays, according to critic Michael Coveney, "comprise a distinctive, homogenous body of work which stands comparison with anyone's in the British theatre and cinema over the same period."

Leigh, Coveney said, has helped to create stars – Liz Smith in Hard Labour, Alison Steadman in Abigail's Party, Brenda Blethyn in Grown-Ups, Antony Sher in Goose-Pimples, and remarked that the list of actors who have worked with him over the years—including Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Jane Horrocks, David Thewlis, Paul Jesson, Phil Daniels, Lindsay Duncan, Lesley Sharp, Kathy Burke, Stephen Rea, Julie Walters – "comprises an impressive, almost representative, nucleus of outstanding British acting talent." His aesthetic has been compared to the sensibility of the Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu and the Italian Federico Fellini. Ian Buruma, writing in The New York Review of Books in January 1994, commented: "It is hard to get on a London bus or listen to the people at the next table in a cafeteria without thinking of Mike Leigh. Like other wholly original artists, he has staked out his own territory. Leigh's London is as distinctive as Fellini's Rome or Ozu's Tokyo."


ACADEMY AWARDS (OSCARS) - Nominations: 5

2011 - Best Original Screenplay - ANOTHER YEAR

2009 - Best Original Screenplay - HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

2005 - Best Director - VERA DRAKE

2005 - Best Original Screenplay - VERA DRAKE

2000 - Best Original Screenplay - TOPSY-TURVY

1997 - Best Director - SECRETS & LIES

1997 - Best Original Screenplay - SECRETS & LIES

BAFTAS - Nominations: 4 WINS: 2

2005 - (WINNER) Best Director - VERA DRAKE

2005 - Best Original Screenplay - VERA DRAKE

2000 - Best Original Screenplay - TOPSY-TURVY

1997 - (WINNER) Best Original Screenplay - SECRETS & LIES

How do you rate Mike Leigh's movies?



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