The King Of Topsy- Turvydom
For years he's been revealing the secrets, lies and high hopes found everywhere from suburban Essex to London's housing estates. So why shouldn't MIKE LEIGH do the same with Victorian theatre?
Words: Miles Fielder
Mike Leigh is on stage at lidinburgh's (‘ameo (‘inema. talking with a very appreciative audience who have just l’inished watching his film about (iilbert and Sullivan. iii/ivy-Turrv. The audience is clearly composed of many (iilbert and Sullivan opera fans. who ask the inevitable question: is this period drama a departure for Mike Leigh‘.’ liarlier in the day. I pose the same question.
'I don‘t think in terms of how much human drama am I going to have and how much historical detail am I going to have.’ responds Leigh. 'l just create a world. and in a very intuitive way. distil a film out of it. It's all about putting me on screen.‘
Leigh‘s worlds have generally been more contemporary: Abigail's Party's 7()s suburbia. High anvs‘s 'l’hatcher-era London. and more recent London We in Naked and Secrets And Lies. But the choice of period setting is not entirely random: Leigh has an affinity with the era. having grown up in the largely Victorian environment of post-war Manchester.
"l‘o have a film set in 1385 would have been hard work. if not impossible. given the organic way I work.‘ explains Leigh. ‘But I do know what it was like in the Ib’b’lls: it hangs in the recent air and it‘s well documented. l have a natural sense ot‘. interest in and. indeed. “are for the late l‘)th century.’
Leigh‘s interest in that time is rellected in 7i)]).\'_\‘- 'l'urry‘s extraordinarily impressive period detail. ‘liverybody got involved in all sorts of research.‘ says Leigh. "l‘he research covered everything: theatrical. literary. language. biography. social. political. economic. medical. gastronomic. Masonicf And then Leigh relates. at length and with obvious delight. how Kevin McKidd took ol’l~ under his own steam to Arbroath. the home town of his character in the lilm. Durward Lely. There he discovered an unpublished biography in the local museum that‘s been overlooked
20 THE LIST 1? Feb ‘2 Mar 2000
'I just create a world, and in a very intuitive way, distil a film out Of lt.’ Mike Leigh
Immersed in Victoriana: Mike Leigh
by generations ol‘ historians. And the ivory talisman McKidd wears in the lilm: that‘s Lely's too.
lior those unfamiliar with Leigh‘s working method. he has his cast research their character‘s backgrounds. Working from a bare bones script. a period of improvisational rehearsals l'ollows and from these Leigh writes the finished screenplay. As he says. ‘I write through directing. It means you reach a stage when everyone is really into it. so the actors can get up and really be these people.‘
Back in the Cameo. the audience wants to know Leigh's opinion of Gilbert and Sullivan. ‘I do like them.’ admits Leigh. ‘but not as much as I like Mozart. You could argue that in the grander scheme of things they are secondary material. 011 the other hand. there are comic metaphors. which. like a great deal of l9th century popular art. work on their own level.‘
‘The truth is.~ concludes Leigh. 'while the film takes (iilbert and Sullivan absolutely seriously. they‘re only as interesting to make a film about as anyone else. I could make a film. in theory. where the central character was Gilbert's valet. or the chambermaid - ev'erybody‘s interesting. In one sense it‘s entirely random what you make your film about as long as it means something and it‘s interesting.‘
As ever. Mike Leigh proves life is. indeed. sweet.
Topsy-Turvy opens Fri 18 Feb. See review.
Lights, camera, action . . . CINEWORKS 2000 GETS underway with a call for entries to the short filmmaking initiative run by the Glasgow Film & Video Workshop. The deadline for proposals is Friday 24 March. For further details contact Cordelia Stephens on 0141 553 2620. There is an introduction to Cineworks on Saturday 19 February at the Glasgow Film & Video Workshop, 3rd Floor, 34 Albion Street, Glasgow. The Cineworks 1999 films - Sex And Death, Guardian Angel, IAm Boy, The Important Parts Of A True Story and Exidore — will be screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in August. See Frontlines. MEN BEHAVING BADLY come under scrutiny in Lucinda Broadbent's documentary about domestic violence and sexual abuse, Macho. The short film, which was made with the involvement of Elaine C Smith and writer Paul Laverty (Carla's Song), highlights the international scandal surrounding the former President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega's abuse of his step daughter and looks at the work of Nicaraguan group Men Against Violence. Margaret Lynch of War On Want will introduce a screening of the film at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Saturday 19 February. RE-NAMED GILMOREHILLG12, the former Gilmorehill Centre for Theatre, Film and Television Studies situated in the heart of Glasgow’s West End, has re-Iaunched itself for the new millennium. Re-designed to be accessible to the general public, GilmorehillG12 aims for a mix of professional and student film and theatre and kicks off with the Longshots Festival Tuesday 22—Friday 25 February. Now in its third year, Longshots showcases films made by students and culminates with an award ceremony night during which prizes will be given to winners in four categories: animation, narrative, documentary and experimental. Meanwhile, 2 March sees a Japanese film season (Thursday's throughout March) get underway with Takeshi Kitano's A Scene By The Sea. STOP PRESS. THE Glasgow Film Office re-launches its website on Monday 21 February. All the crucial information for film production centred in Glasgow can be found at: http://www.glasgowfilm.org.uk
On screen at GilmorehillG12: Takeshi