In conversation with Mike Leigh @ London Film School

Photograph:Wikipedia

14.01.2021

Mike Leigh OBE begins the Q&A session by reflecting on his beginnings in theatre and film. His first cinema inspirations came after moving from Manchester to London, where for the first time he saw subtitled film and works such as Ermanno Olmi’s formed his biggest inspirations. As he trained to be an actor at RADA, he realised he was able to sneak into the LFS lectures without raising too many suspicions and there he began an education in film. Not long after, his first feature film- Bleak Moments– was created as a collaboration with a school friend with a budget of less than £20,000, largely donated by the lead actor.

What I found most interesting about Mike Leigh’s conversation was learning of his relaxed approached to film creation. Despite being known as a screenwriter, he never writes a script but rather has an idea of what he wants the film to be about and where he wants it to go. Once the idea is formed, he will organise a cast who he then collaborates with in creating the scenes. Afterwards it is written up as an ‘assembly’ for sound production to use. He explains that he began creating Naked– his film about an unemployed Mancunian who vents his rage on unsuspecting strangers- with only the remotest notions of what he wanted to create, embarking on a journey of discovery. This free way of working extends across all of Leigh’s work, as he refuses to use story boards even when it means fighting with his crew on Peterloo, sticks to small crews as well as budgets. The only ridigity it seems Leigh adopts, is that he is firm that actors should only ever know what a character knows at any given point, allowing for the most authentic of performances. It is clear his works are real passion projects focused mostly on exploring character rather than subject, but that his films are always about things which interest him, as Vera Drake was born from his consciousness of illegal abortion growing up. Leigh is definitely proof that for film, you really don’t need a rule book to be successful just passion, inspiration and of course, money.



Little Fires Everywhere – A perfectly timed discussion on race.

Photograph:The Radio Times

Little Fires Everywhere focuses on two mothers: Elena Richardson, a white middle class writer and all round do gooder and Mia Warren, a black artist who moves from state to state in her car with her daughter, Pearl. The two meet when Elena Richardson takes pity on Warren and allows her and Pearl to rent her apartment for free. Elena prides herself on the action and sees it as an opportunity to do good in the world, soon sparking up a friendship with Pearl, who in turn becomes close friends with her own children. The story becomes, in the most part, a discussion about race and class, but also about motherhood. Ironically released during the biggest discussion of race the world has ever seen, following from George Floyd’s murder, it is a loud and glaring discussion of white privilege in America, from dolls only being made in white, to Elena’s trust in the police department versus Mia’s fear. However, the biggest and most thoroughgoing discussion of race and motherhood comes in with a third mother, Bebe Chow, who came to America from China to give her daughter a better life. The show sees her fight for custody of Mai Ling, in a world where white always wins.

What I loved…

The acting in the series incredible; Kerry Washington undeniably owns the show with her moving portrayal of Mia Warren. However, I found the shows young cast especially impressive, specifically Tiffany Boone, who plays the younger Mia Warren in the flash back episodes. Despite having a smaller part, her ability to mimic Kerry Washington’s mannerisms and facial expressions made for an uncanny likeness. She is one to watch.

The conversations the season has is undoubtedly its most interesting feature. It is the most mainstream discussion of racial bias and how it filtrates into the minds into even the most seemingly anti-racist people, I have ever seen. This comes through most clearly in the Richardson family, in particular through Elena’s character, who despite all her good intentions, still holds biases that she herself is blind to.
Alongside and tangled up in its conversation about racism is its discussion of motherhood, in particular mother daughter relationships, which forms a relatable and moving dialogue throughout the show. The season parallels Elena’s relationship with her youngest daughter Izzy (the one she didn’t plan for) with Mia’s relationship with Pearl. Both girls experience problems with their own mother and in turn seek solace in each others. Izzy, who can’t cope with her mothers need for control enjoys the company of free spirit Mia, while Pearl, sick of having no sense security or grounding, can see the value in a tightly organised home. The fact that both girls find qualities in each others mother’s more agreeable than their own shows that the concept of a ‘good mother’ is subjective, based more on preference than truth. This dialogue is played out with Bebe’s fight to keep her daughter, when the court gets to decide what constitutes a good mother. Through these three women the show discusses the inadequacy, survival and criticism of mothers.

Little Fires Everywhere is a powerful, political, feminist watch.

9/10

BlackAF

Photograph: Gabriel Delerme

Looking for an easy watch comedy during the lockdown? Look no further than Kenya Barris’ BlackAF, following on from his earlier series ‘black-ish’, ‘grown-ish’ and ‘mixed-ish’. Despite being criticised for being a rehashing of ‘Black Ish’, viewed in separation this is a funny and fresh watch, readily available at your Netflix fingertips. The series is a satirised depiction of Kenya Barris’ life, a wealthy comedy writer, presented as a documentary attempt by the protagonist’s daughter for her college application. Showing his black middle class family living in a white middle class world, the series confronts issues of prejudice, cultural identity, and ‘black art’ success in a way that (prior to Black Ish), I had never seen before. Kenya Barris may need to push himself to get away from the shadow of Black Ish, but here he has stuck to what he does best: expounding on his personal narrative in a satirical context.