The grass is always greener?
Meantime - Special Edition (DVD)
Member Name: sunmeilan
Meantime - Special Edition (DVD)
Advantages: Fascinating characters
Disadvantages: Odd, will not capture everyone's attention
Colin Pollack lives with his brother, Mike, and parents, Frank and Mavis in Thatcher's London in the eighties. Colin is downtrodden and treated as if he is stupid by his family and all around him, as well as being unemployed, as are Mike and Frank and almost everyone they know. The atmosphere at home is frosty and argumentative, especially when Mavis' sister, Barbara, is mentioned - Barbara, married to John, has gone up in the world and now lives in the suburbs, throwing the occasional crumb to the Pollacks. When Barbara tells Colin she has found him a painting and decorating job in her own house, he is reluctant, but she is paying him good money. Will he be able to stand on his own two feet for once and decide whether he is going to do the job or not? Or will Mike fill his shoes as usual?
Directed by Mike Leigh, this film was made in 1984 and was meant to be a representation of Thatcher's Britain for the working classes. Mike Leigh is perhaps most famous for Abigail's Party, a BBC television play made in the seventies, but who has also directed the fabulous Secrets & Lies and Vera Drake. He is known for his unusual form of directing. Once his actors are chosen, he sits them down and tells them there is no script, forcing them to improvise through constant interaction - the end result is his edited version of what he filmed. This generally results in very character-heavy films, in which the actors have had substantial time to get to grips with who they are playing. The plots, on the other hand are of secondary importance. This is very much the case with this film.
The main role of Colin is played by a young Tim Roth (before his Hollywood days) and truly is a marvel. Colin initially comes across as 'retarded' (the film's words, not mine), but is really just bowed down under the weight of everyone's bullying. He is shy and retiring and needs encouraging to bring him out of his shell, but instead of this happening, he is treated like an idiot and, as Tim Roth describes in the extras, "ran away and ran inwards". The film is basically the story of his realisation that, if he doesn't change the way other people see him, he will always be the downtrodden one. Unfortunately, it seems as though he has an uphill struggle, especially when his brother, Mike, constantly puts him in his place, and his parents and aunt treat him like a child. Roth clearly got to grips with the character of Colin in an extraordinary way and was a real pleasure to watch - although at times it was hard-going because of the enormity of his task.
Phil Daniels plays Mike and was really the reason I watched the film. Probably most famous for his role in Quadrophenia, Daniels is almost unrecognisable as Mike, with a mop of thick dark hair, a moustache and massive glasses - it is a struggle to remember that people did actually look like that back in the eighties and I did spend the first half hour trying not to laugh every time he appeared on screen. Mike comes across as an obnoxious yob at first; he has a sarcastic comment for everyone and is clearly furious about his unemployed predicament. However, he softens as the film continues, especially when portrayed next to his skinhead friend, Coxy. By the end of the film, he is still far from likable, but he is much more understandable - and that has a lot to do with Phil Daniels' performance. Tim Roth's Colin was still the main focus of the film, but Daniels' Mike comes a close second, and the two worked well together.
I was amazed to realise that Pam Ferris plays Mavis Pollack. She usually plays much more jolly characters, such as Ma Larkin in The Darling Buds of May and Laura Thyme in Rosemary and Thyme. As Mavis, she is a miserable shrew of a woman who has simply been beaten down by the disappointments of life. She isn't pleasant, but her state of mind is understandable. Marion Bailey plays her sister, Barbara, and is both annoying and sympathetic at the same time - she has no intention of being patronising, but just doesn't understand the difficulties her sister is going through. The difference between Mavis and Barbara is every bit as strong as that between Colin and Mike. The two husbands, played by Jeff Robert and Alfred Molina, were very much pushed into the background by the others, but were nevertheless good in what they had to do.
Two other characters that deserve a mention are Coxy (Gary Oldman) and Hayley (Tilly Vosburgh). Coxy is the archetypal skinhead, who is constantly drunk, rude to everyone and is actually quite frightening. I'm not entirely sure of the wisdom of this stereotyping, but the touch of humour and over-acting that Oldman brings to it makes it a little more palatable. He really is threatening at times though, especially towards Hayley. Hayley is an interesting character that I really wish had been given more leeway in the film. She is shy and timid and it isn't quite clear what the point of her character is at all, as if part of it was cut out in the editing process. Vosburgh was excellent in the role though and I would have loved to see more layers of her character.
The problem with character pieces like this is that it does often mean that the plot is sacrificed - and that certainly is the case here. The 'plot' is basically about Colin's growing up, but that doesn't become obvious until very near the end. For those who like a real story to get their teeth into, along with lots of action, there isn't really much of that here. There are a lot of close-ups of people's faces to enable the viewer to understand what they are thinking/going through and there are also several shots of people, mainly Mike, just walking. The only action comes from Coxy and his 'flirting' with Hayley. Much of the script could come straight out of anyone's living room - it is just ordinary, every day speech. If it weren't for the characters, this film wouldn't be worth a second glance. For those who find quality of film important, there could be a disappointment here. It is perfectly watchable, but a little grainy on occasion, without the clarity of more up-to-date films.
Most extras add something to the film if the viewer is really interested in it and otherwise, are only worth a glance. All three extras with this DVD are well worth watching. The first is an interview with Mike Leigh and gives his view on making the film, which, because of his forays into improvisation are really interesting. It seems like a strange way to make a film, but the depth it adds to his characters seems to be worth it. Then there's an interview with Tim Roth, which mainly focuses on what it was like to work with Mike, as well as certain aspects of his character. It was a fascinating interview that really helped to round off the character of Colin; I certainly have a lot more respect for Tim Roth and his acting abilities now. Finally, there's an interview with Marion Bailey, which gives her insight into Barbara and why she behaves in the way that she does. What is clear from the extras is the enormous amount of work that went into putting these characters together and just how much the actors respected Mike Leigh's work. The only thing missing for me was an interview with Phil Daniels.
This is an unusual film that encapsulated a certain place at a certain time and will be of most interest to those who remember that time. Others could find it very depressing, even pointless because of the lack of plot. I think it's worth watching for the character development - although it does need a lot of concentration to follow what's going on; this isn't a film you can half watch while you are doing something else. If you like Mike Leigh's work, or any of the main actors, then I recommend giving it a watch. Four stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £5.49.
Classification: 15 (for swearing)
Running time: 90 minutes
Summary: Thatcher's Britain, Mike Leigh style