I haven’t seen Mike Leigh’s 1971 Bleak Moments which was his debut, but after a decade of directing television episodes this he made Meantime– albeit a made for TV movie.
In an era in the 1980’s where Merchant Ivory were British cinema- this is certainly the anti- Merchant Ivory.
It’s the first archiveable film for Tim Roth and Gary Oldman as the “Brit Pack” of the 80’s- two actors that would be pretty incredible over the next 15 years. Alfred Molina is also here (his only previous archiveable film is that memorable opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark).
Shot on crude 16mm- which matches the material impeccably actually. A film about the lower working class (unemployment a major role in the film) Thatcher-era
Authentic- Leigh isn’t an expressionist but a realist (and a social realist here in the vein of Ken Loach). Shot on location and you need subtitles here for these accents. Molina and his wife are middle-class relatives and that dynamic (including the accents they have) is in the text. They also argue about economics in the text
Gut-wrenching scenes at the unemployment office, these guys are sitting around on the couch, at the bingo hall, pub, in harsh yellow depressing soul-sucking lighting
Oldman is menacing. He looks and sounds like an ex-convict they got off the street to be in a movie- not an actor. Roth is great, too. His performance is almost entirely silent with his big bug eyes in those glasses. They all have bad skin and no makeup. Leigh gives them space to act and create real characters. Leigh certainly cares about these characters
The entire thing is entirely bleak- characters constantly fighting and riding each other- and that’s Leigh’s point of course so it’s a success
An entire scene shot at low height for the camera on a washing machine that is breaking and the fight it causes
There’s a tiny glimmer of a light at the end of the tunnel with the two brothers making a connection (albeit by Roth telling his dad to shut up)