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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...


An early BBC work, Hard Labour continues the understated, downbeat style of Bleak Moments in what may be Leigh's most poignant portrait, that of a middle-aged working class woman whose life is a ... More »


Leigh's best-known film in Australia is the most sophisticated of his television-films and one of the great British films of the decade. Made not for the BBC but for Central Television, the film was ... More »


Mike Leigh's latest delivers all that we have come to expect from this unique filmmaker, and then some. It's at once raucously funny while often blindingly insightful, a natural development upon his ... 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 »


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 »


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

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