Another superlative effort from Leigh. It is one of his best works- arguably as strong as anything this side of Naked
The post-WWII (November 1950) period detail production design is an artistic triumph. The immaculate wallpaper, the costume work, the tea kettle cover—no detail too small for Leigh, Dick Pope (his DP) and Eve Stewart’s production design. This is a time capsule film. It could be from 1954, 1984, 2004 and it’ll look just as good in 2034.
Like nearly all of Leigh’s work this is a blue-collar story, observational and authentic. He’s a realist. Imelda Staunton’s titular character is a cleaning woman (a “domestic”), her dutiful husband is a mechanic, her shy daughter checks light bulbs in a factory and charismatic son a tailor. Staunton is a saintly figure. She has a secret in her unspoken past (that prompts her to “help these girls”), she is a matchmaker for her awkward daughter, sweet as can be—5 feet tall—which makes it almost tragically funny when she is treated like a criminal in the film’s final hour.
Her side occupation here (she doesn’t get paid for it) is approached matter of fact. There’s no sermonizing by Leigh. This is what she does and it is part of her day to day and he’s capturing the realism of the family (that tiny apartment), the period (they all trade goods like nylon and tea, and sweets—the barter system)
Staunton works in the home of Sally Hawkins (daughter) and Lesley Manville. Posh and upper class/rich. Hawkins’ has an abortion and she pays 100 pounds. It is a comment from Leigh and a sharp contrast of the working class and what Vera Drake does
Eddie Marsan is great here (god bless his quiet, wholly good and noble character telling her this is the best Christmas he’s had in a long time), Phil Davis as well—really good work in another Leigh film going back to High Hopes in 1988
There is a jaw-dropper (I’d call it a show off shot if I didn’t know Leigh well enough to know he wouldn’t do that) frame art on a wall shot– and use of lighting as they walk to Phil Davis’ character’s work—proof of Leigh’s evolution as a visual director since the 1980’s.
Almost exactly half way through at the 1 hour mark it turns into a police and legal film
Staunton earns her justifiable Oscar nomination with her face and it sinks when the police shows up. – what a moment for an actor. The blue sweater matching those soulful eyes.
Leigh is taking aim at the system—the police are actually very nice.
5-10 really strong setting of the frames- showcasing the period detail, the wallpaper. One has the son Daniel Mays in the foreground, in profile, on a chair with Saunton in the background on the couch. A great depth of field shot. The final shot is immaculate. The family, missing Staunton (who is in prison) at the dinner table, the door ajar, Leigh’s camera catches the edge of the door frame—bliss
A Highly Recommend top 10 of the year quality film