UK/USA, 2007, 118 mins
Director: Mike Leigh

+ Q&A with Mike Leigh and Alexis Zegerman

Let me tell you something about teaching,’ snaps bitter, lost Scott (Eddie Marsan) to bubbly, glass-half-full Poppy (Sally Hawkins) in Mike Leigh’s new film Happy-Go-Lucky. Both are teachers of a sort: 30-year-old Poppy works at a local primary school while Scott is a driving instructor. But that’s where the similarities between these two Londoners end: their attitudes to life are worlds apart and they would be unlikely to meet if the confinement of a driving lesson had not thrust them together in a hermetic dramatic space comparable to the living rooms of Leigh films from Bleak Moments (1971) through Life Is Sweet (1990) to Secrets & Lies (1996). Put simply, Poppy sees the best in people, while Scott sees the worst.

The word is that Happy-Go-Lucky is a departure for Leigh, a comedy that’s unashamedly optimistic. But that analysis only works on a superficial level and for those with short memories. Leigh himself, speaking to me about the film, is already tired of some of the more lazy reactions. ‘It’s said to be ‘extraordinary from this miserabilist’,’ he quotes, paraphrasing some of the reviews written when Happy-Go-Lucky played at this year’s Berlin, where Sally Hawkins won the Silver Bear for acting. ‘To be honest, it’s so ludicrous that I’m beyond being cross about it.’

It’s true that Happy-Go-Lucky offers a very different tone to Leigh’s two most recent films: All or Nothing (2002), with its inherent sadness among the inhabitants of a crumbling London council estate, and Vera Drake (2004), with its impression of an uptight 1950s London and the weight of a story hinged on unwanted pregnancy and illegal abortion. Yet one need only travel as far back as Topsy-Turvy (1999), Leigh’s film about Gilbert and Sullivan and the dramatic process, to be reminded that for this director laughs do not emerge only from tragedy. More interesting, then, is to place the humour Leigh mines in Happy-Go-Lucky in relation to that of his previous films. Compared with the often hysterical tone of his last explicit comedy Life Is Sweet, Happy-Go-Lucky displays a more sophisticated and relaxed approach, with the serious and the funny more comfortable bedfellows. The gags are subtler and more often situational than based on peculiarities of character: compare the humour of the osteopathy scene or the flamenco lessons in Happy-Go-Lucky with the laughs sought in Life Is Sweet at the expense of the ridiculous Aubrey (Timothy Spall) with his warped Americanisms, sunglasses and baseball caps. Poppy is more fun than she is funny; she allows us to laugh but also to think.

But there are plenty of other affinities between Happy-Go-Lucky and Leigh’s earlier work. There’s the ongoing concern with learning, whether formal or self-motivated, and with the attitudes of those involved professionally with the education or protection of others. There’s the interest in the suburbs. There’s the investigation of characters whose lives are invaded by other people. There’s the fascination with youth, and particularly with the borders between youth and responsibility. Even the awkward dynamic between Poppy and Scott recalls similarly incompatible relationships, from party-pooper Peter (Eric Allan) in Bleak Moments bringing silence to the front-room gathering of Sylvia (Anne Raitt), to Edna Doré’s hunched and miserable Mrs Bender in High Hopes (1988) being forced to sit in the gentrified kitchen of her vile upper-class neighbours after locking herself out. Such invasions are the stuff of Leigh’s continuing exploration of the various pushes and pulls at the ground level of British society.

What’s unusual about Happy-Go-Lucky in Leigh’s oeuvre is that it shows a dominating interest in a single character, the force of whose personality drives the film. The obvious comparison is with Naked (1993). If Leigh sees Happy-Go-Lucky as ‘the reverse side of the same coin as Naked’, then the clearest reversal is of tone: the recent film gives a platform to Poppy’s optimism rather than to the pessimism and nihilism incarnated in Johnny. In Naked, Johnny asks Katrin Cartlidge’s Sophie, ‘Do you ever think you might have had the happiest moment in your entire life and all you’ve got to look forward to is sickness and purgatory?’ Whereas Poppy’s joyful idealism is captured in a heartfelt comment to her pupils: ‘It’d be amazing to fly, wouldn’t it?’ The differences are further emphasised by Naked’s dark palette and surfeit of night-time scenes as opposed to the visual ebullience of Happy-Go-Lucky, its vivid colours seemingly drawn from Poppy’s bright, loud dress sense.

That Happy-Go-Lucky offers a central portrait within an ensemble cast is partly down to Leigh’s desire to work closely with Hawkins to build a story around her character. ‘It was about creating a character who would tap into her energy, humour and profundity,’ Leigh says, though he stresses that, ‘it’s still as much an ensemble piece as any of my films.’ Adds Leigh: ‘The only thing that makes this film unique is that, apart from two tiny scenes, there’s no parallel action. The entire action focuses on what’s happening to Poppy, whereas even in Naked there’s a lot going on with other characters.’

Both Naked and Happy-Go-Lucky are emphatically urban films as opposed to the suburban likes of Bleak Moments, Grown-Ups (1980), Life Is Sweet and Secrets & Lies or Leigh’s 1977 play Abigail’s Party. Yet Leigh doesn’t resist a familiar journey to the suburbs when Poppy, Zoe and Poppy’s youngest sister Suzy (Kate O’Flynn) drive to Southend-on-Sea to spend a day and night with Poppy’s younger, married and pregnant sister Helen (Caroline Martin). It’s the sort of expedition taken in High Hopes by Cyril (Phil Davis) and Shirley (Ruth Sheen) to visit his social-climbing sister Valerie (Heather Tobias), or in Meantime (1983) by unemployed Cohn (Tim Roth) to do jobs for his richer aunt Barbara (Marion Bailey) away from the squalor of the east London estate where he lives. Such trips to the edge of town are a source of unease for Leigh that allows him to explore issues of unequal wealth and happiness, often within the same family and between siblings.

The conflict Leigh explores when Poppy visits Helen is less about class or wealth than about ideas of how to live life at a certain age. Here the perennial concept of ‘the done thing’ raises its ugly head. Helen thinks that Poppy is not living responsibly enough for her age, and says so. It’s a measure of Poppy’s character – strong, independent and resistant to crippling outside influences – that she stands up for herself: ‘I love my life. Yeah, it can be hard at times, but that’s part of it.’

But perhaps we shouldn’t get too carried away by Poppy’s effervescent nature and permanent smile. For there are suggestions that not everything is as rosy as the colourful jewellery she wears. Should we detect in Poppy anything of the brave-face-in-adversity displayed by other characters over the years, most notably Beverly in Abigail’s Party? Significantly, once Poppy embarks on a romance in the later stages of the film she loses some of her excessive make-up and baubles, indicating that perhaps she now no longer feels the need to try so hard. And there’s an important late-night scene with a troubled tramp where we may come closest to witnessing her essence. As the tramp stutters drunkenly at her, indicating his own trauma,

Poppy reacts with striking intuition, nodding and agreeing. ‘You know?’ he asks, stumbling to a halt. ‘Yeah, I do,’ says Poppy with an empathy that suggests real understanding. Does her refusal to share the details of this encounter with her friends hint that Poppy is hiding a buried unhappiness she doesn’t fully comprehend? Certainly it’s an episode that shines new light on her scenes of comic banter, as at the osteopath’s surgery where she deflects her pain with a stream of gags.

Some of Leigh’s films are explicitly of the moment: Meantime investigates early-1980s unemployment; the television play Four Days in July (1984) focuses on the Northern Irish religious divide; High Hopes riffs on the fading flame of socialism; Life Is Sweet draws attention to the absurdities of Thatcherite entrepreneurialism. But there are others where the sense of contemporaneity is more ingrained in the characters, their attitudes and their relations to the people around them. Happy-Go-Lucky belongs to this category: we have to step back from the story to consider what Poppy’s character and behaviour say about the zeitgeist. She’s a modern, urban woman, as comfortable with her friends as with her family, able to balance pleasure with work, and confident in being single while retaining romantic ideals. Leigh teases the political out of the personal. ‘I don’t think Happy-Go-Lucky is any less political than my other films,’ he insists. ‘It’s as much about dealing with life and coping with issues as anything I’ve made.’
Dave Calhoun, Sight & Sound, May 2008

Directed by: Mike Leigh
© Untitled 06 Distribution Limited, Channel Four, UK Film Council
Production Companies: Thin Man Films, Ingenious Film Partners
For: Film4
Made with the support of: UK Film Council Premiere Fund
Produced by: Ingenious Film Partners 2 LLP
On behalf of: Untitled 06 Distribution Limited
Distribution by: Summit Entertainment
Executive Producers: James Clayton, David Garrett, Duncan Reid, Tessa Ross, Gail Egan
Produced by: Simon Channing Williams
Co-producer: Georgina Lowe
Commercial Executive for IFP: Guillaume de Chalendar
Production Executive For IFP: Nik Bower
Distribution For IFP: Jane Moore
Finance For IFP: Mark Fielding
Operations: Peter Touche
For Ingenious Media Services: Ellen Fraser
Head of Business Affairs for Film Four: Paul Grindley
Legal Services for Film Four: Gretta Finer
Head of Premiere Fund for UKFC: Sally Caplan
Head of Business Affairs for UKFC: Will Evans
Head of Production Finance for UKFC: Vince Holden
Head of Production for UKFC: Fiona Morham
Completion Bond: Graham Easton, Film Finances Ltd
Production Supervisor: Danielle Brandon
Production Accountant: Will Tyler
Thin Man Films Accountant: Bek Leigh
Production Co-ordinator: Sarah McBryde
Location Manager: Jonah Coombes
Assistant Location Managers: Josh Yudkin, Amy McCombe
Location Assistant: Amie Tridgell
Location Trainee: Hannah Lamb
Post-production Supervisor: Polly Duval
Producer’s Assistant: Edith Kähler
Producer’s Secretary: Tessa Morgan
1st Assistant Director: Josh Robertson
2nd Assistant Directors: Chloe Chesterton, Abbie Browne
3rd Assistant Directors: Melanie Heseltine, Serena Plunkett
Script Supervisor: Heather Storr
Casting: Nina Gold
Casting Assistant: Robert Sterne
Screenplay: Mike Leigh
Director of Photography: Dick Pope
Camera Operator: Dick Pope
Focus Puller: Gordon Segrove
Clapper Loader: John Evans
Camera Trainee: Pearse Crowley
Grip: Colin Strachan
Gaffer: Matthew Moffatt
Stills Photographer: Simon Mein
Special Effects: Special Effects GB Ltd
Editor: Jim Clark
1st Assistant Editor: Gavin Buckley
Production Designer: Mark Tildesley
Supervising Art Director: Patrick Rolfe
Art Director: Denis Schnegg
Assistant Art Director: Katrina Dunn
Standby Art Director: Arwel Evans
Set Decorator: Michelle Day
Art Department Assistant: Nadine Herrmann
Production Buyer: Kathryn Pyle
Property Master: Nick Thomas
Construction Manager: Dan Crandon
Costume Designer: Jacqueline Durran
Assistant Costume Designer: Holly Waddington
Wardrobe Supervisor: David Crossman
Wardrobe Mistress: Tamsin Wright
Make-up/Hair Design: Christine Blundell
Make-up Artist: Lesa Warrener
Make-up Assistant: Chloë Meddings
Title Design: Chris Allies
Originated on: Fuji Film
Rushes/Prints by: DeLuxe
Music Composed by: Gary Yershon
Orchestra Leader: Sonia Slany
Violins: Rita Manning, Mark Berrow, Calina De La Mare, Liz Edwards, Julian Leaper
Violas: Clare Finnimore, Bill Hawkes, George Robertson
Bass: Mary Scully
Flutes: Andy Findon, Nina Robertson
Oboe: Richard Simpson
Clarinet: Tim Lines
Bassoon: Richard Skinner
French Horn: Tim Jones
Trumpet: Derek Watkinson
Euphoniums: Patrick Herrild, Owen Slade
Classical Guitar: John Parricelli
Music Conducted by: Terry Davies
Orchestra Contractor: Isobel Griffiths
Music Editor: Andy Glen
Music Recorded/Mixed at: Angel Studios, London
Music Recording Engineer: Gary Thomas
Choreographer/Flamenco Dance Consultant: Isabel Baquero
Sound Recordist: Tim Fraser
Re-recording Mixers: Robert Farr, Mark Paterson
Supervising Sound Editor: Nigel Stone
Dialogue Editor: Jason Canovas
Recordist ADR: Anthony Bayman
ADR Mixer: Andy Thompson
Foley Editor: Steve Schwalbe
Action Vehicles: Reel Vehicles
Publicity: Jonathan Rutter, Premier PR

Sally Hawkins (Poppy)
Eddie Marsan (Scott)
Alexis Zegerman (Zoe)
Sylvestra Le Touzel (Heather)
Stanley Townsend (tramp)
Kate O’Flynn (Suzy)
Caroline Martin (Helen)
Oliver Maltman (Jamie)
Sarah Niles (Tash)
Samuel Roukin (Tim)
Karina Fernandez (flamenco teacher)
Nonso Anozie (Ezra)
Sinéad Matthews (Alice)
Andrea Riseborough (Dawn)
Elliot Cowan (bookshop assistant)
Joseph Kloska (Suzy’s boyfriend)
Anna Reynolds (receptionist)
Trevor Cooper (patient)
Philip Arditti, Viss Elliot, Rebekah Staton (flamenco students)
Jack MacGeachin (Nick)
Charlie Duffield (Charlie)
Ayotunde Williams (Ayotunde)

UK/USA 2007©
118 mins


Bleak Moments
Mon 18 Oct 20:40; Thu 28 Oct 18:00
Nuts in May
Wed 20 Oct 18:00; Sun 31 Oct 11:20 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh, Alison Steadman, Roger Sloman, Anthony O’Donnell, Stephen Bill and Sheila Kelley)
The Kiss of Death + The Permissive Society
Sat 23 Oct 12:50
Hard Labour
Sat 23 Oct 15:10
Sun 24 Oct 14:50 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh, Sally Hawkins, Alexis Zegerman and Kate O’Flynn);
Mon 15 Nov 20:40
Sun 24 Oct 18:00 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh,
Marion Bailey and Phil Daniels); Thu 11 Nov 20:45
Secrets & Lies
Mon 25 Oct 14:30; Sat 6 Nov 19:00 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh); Sat 27 Nov 15:00
Abigail’s Party
Tue 26 Oct 20:50; Sun 14 Nov 12:00 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh)
High Hopes
Thu 28 Oct 14:30; Tue 2 Nov 18:45 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh, Ruth Sheen and Phil Davis); Thu 11 Nov 18:00; Sat 20 Nov 20:30
Life Is Sweet
Tue 28 Oct 17:50 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh);
Thu 4 Nov 18:15; Tue 23 Nov 20:50
Grown-Ups + The Short and Curlies
Sat 30 Oct 17:15 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh);
Tue 30 Nov 14:15
Home Sweet Home
Mon 1 Nov 17:50 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh);
Sat 6 Nov 11:45
All or Nothing
Wed 3 Nov 20:30; Wed 10 Nov 20:30; Sun 21 Nov 17:10 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh, Lesley Manville and Marion Bailey)
Career Girls
Fri 5 Nov 20:50; Fri 12 Nov 18:15; Tue 23 Nov 18:00 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh)
Vera Drake
Fri 12 Nov 20:40; Fri 26 Nov 17:40 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh, Imelda Staunton and Phil Davis)
Sun 14 Nov 17:30 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh and
Jim Broadbent); Sun 28 Nov 17:40
Another Year
Fri 19 Nov 17:30 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh, Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville); Mon 29 Nov 20:30
Four Days in July
Sat 20 Nov 11:50 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh and
Bríd Brennan); Wed 24 Nov 14:15
Sat 20 Nov 16:20 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh);
Mon 29 Nov 17:40
Mr. Turner
Sun 21 Nov 13:10 (+ Q&A with Mike Leigh, Marion Bailey and Dorothy Atkinson); Sat 27 Nov 17:30
Who’s Who + A Sense of History + A Running Jump
Sat 30 Nov 14:00

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