caring about characters? Surely it's possible to present grossly unsympathetic characters and still have people care intensely — Dickens (a writer often mentioned as a Leigh forebear) did it. With Leigh‘s films. there‘s a less humane feeling that creeps in. and there are certain characters. like the yuppie couple in High Hopes— again. Leigh stesses. researched to the hilt — that you’d be only too happy to piss over. preople feel that way. Leigh says. 'there‘s nothing I can do about that. But it does happen. And it depresses me. quite simply.”
Another source ofimbalance in the film is the humour— recognisable Leigh for the most part. based around tics and embarrassing silences. but elsewhere going for broader strokes — notably in Aubrey’s appalling bistro Regret Rien. with its emetic table d'hote ofTongues in Rhubarb Hollandaise. Clams in Ham and (oh. come now) Liver in Lager.
‘We,were very strict.‘ Leigh insists. ‘We got in a cooking expert and attempted to cook everything we’d invented. and anything that didn‘t work — things you can't do because they coagulate or whatever — went. The only one that people categorically
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say sticks out like a sore thumb was Pork Cyste. That was the only one we didn‘t invent. It‘s an early English dish — I refer you to a wonderful book called Head To Tail: A Gourmet's Guide To Offal Cooking.
It could be that Leigh’s work is essentially televisual. that there‘s something about it (visually and in subject matter) that‘s
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intrinsically alien to what we expect to see on a cinema screen. A Play For Today like Abigail's Party captures the audience leakage from the Nine 0'Clock News. You‘re in your living room, watching other people in their living room: the traditional mirror function of television drama is there to be played on. But Life Is Sweet is likely to be distributed to an arthouse audience with different expectations.
Leigh agrees it's a problem. ‘I don’t want to make films which are only shown at the
Lumiere or the Edinburgh Filmhouse. any more than I want to do plays in Hampstead. The problem is, you do things on television and it sinks without trace. The success of some craplike Shirley Valentine, while it depresses me, encourages me in another sense, because it‘s theoretically possible to make a British picture that people will go and see. The tension is between trying to make that happen and still doing idiosyncratic films. If they can work on television and get the audiences they used to, then theoretically that can happen in the pictures. But it does demand that they’re distributed with the appropriate courage.’
At this point, Leigh‘s wife Alison Steadman sticks her head round the door to announce, ‘We’re going to L ‘Escargot.’
“Oh, are you?” replies Leigh. ‘This is very posh. The things you say in front of journalists! “We hardly ever go there," he added. . .’ he adds. laying on the invisible quote marks. ‘They’ve got as pretentious a menu as anybody.‘
Life Is Sweet opens at the Cameo, Edinburgh on Friday 5 April.
' "Tic ListS — 18 April 19917