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UK, 1988 (MIFF 1989)

Director: Mike Leigh

Mike Leigh's latest film is his first made directly for cinema release in 17 years and a fitting culmination to the retrospective of his films screening through the festival.

The most sophisticated and yet the most conventional of all his films, High Hopes weaves the story of three very different couples amidst the gentrification of inner-city London. The familiar Leigh issues of sex, class and putting the kettle on are again central, but where so many of his earlier characters have lived sad, unfulfilled lives, in High Hopes Leigh has put on film two of the most engaging characters in recent screen memory. Where so much political cinema has become that of hollow gesture and rhetoric, High Hopes offers its audience the convincingly human face of Cyril and Shirley, a working -class couple living in a tiny Kings Cross flat. They may not aspire to great heights, but contrasted to the lives of their appalling yuppie neighbours and Cyril's nouveau-riche sister, they have the world.

A note from the director. I used to be a complete pessimist, I now realise. (I denied it at the time; but I was deluding myself!) I thought life was inherendy and inevitably awful. And that's what my early films, such as Bleak Moments, were about. Paradoxically, that was in more liberal times, when perhaps it was still possible to see life exclusively in terms of the endemic human condition!

Now the world is a harder place, not least in England, where greed and cynicism flourish. Under Thatcher's oppression, you really start to sense people's positive qualities as they struggle with their day-to-day survival.

So I am hopeful, curiously. (And I am older, and I have children.) But it is frustrating: like millions of people, 1 am not exactly sure how best to go about things, or how to resolve the colossal difference between the ideal society we dream about, and the grotesque world as it is.

High Hopes is an expression of these feelings and ideas. For me, Cyril and Shirley's hope lies in their love, their freedom, their honesty, their idealism, and above all, their sense of humanity.

See also...


Adapted from his 1970 stage production, Bleak Moments not only represents Mike Leigh's feature film debut but also establishes the characteristic method of mood of his output, a stylistic signature ... More »

The Short and Curlies

In between serving cough pastels and contraceptives at the chemist's, Joy dreams of the perfect man. Over at the hairdresser's, Betty has the same pre occupation for herself and her daughter Charlene ... More »

The Five Minute Films

Made early in Leigh's career at the BBC, but not screened until the 1982 Mike Leigh Retrospective on BBC-2, this is a series of 5 short vignettes, each five minutes in length, each designed to ... More »


This tale of young love focuses on the romantic ebb of love in the life of a rather shambling undertaker's assistant. ... More »


Two couples, one Catholic, one Protestant, are near neighbours in Belfast. They have nothing in common, save the fact that both women are expecting their first babies, which will be born on the same ... More »


Leigh's melancholy variation on 'Postman's Knock' centres on three postmen whose domestic lives on a suburban estate are more loosely (and painfully) entangled than they realise. The sexual conquests ... More »

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