Credit: Mubi
by Lawrence Garcia Feature Articles Featured Film

People In Rooms: The Films of Mike Leigh

January 20, 2023

In the commentary track to Grown-Ups (1980), one of eight television films Mike Leigh made for the BBC, the director remarks that many of his filmmaking decisions flow from asking one basic question: “Is this a man in a room, or a room with a man in it?” His films, which have launched the careers of several great English actors, are almost invariably concerned with the former. But this distinction conveys Leigh’s conception of human behavior is fundamentally relational. In his films, there is no such thing as a character without a milieu, no person without the place they inhabit. For Leigh, a mode of behavior in vacuo just makes no sense. In Naked (1993), David Thewlis’ Johnny asks a security guard (Peter Wight) what he is protecting. And when the man answers “space,” Johnny has some fun with this response, joking that he had better watch out, lest someone break in and steal all that space. But the line is amusing for another reason, too — for in Leigh’s filmic worlds there is, in some sense, no such thing as empty space. There is no awareness, no experience of physical space, without a corresponding understanding of how people move and act within it.

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Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 3.