Friday, March 11, 2011

HARD LABOUR (1973) - Mike Leigh

Poor, hard-working Mrs. Thornley. The soundtrack of her life is a chorus of complaints, none of them her own. If it isn't her moody husband grousing about the rheumatism in his shoulder and demanding beans and toast, then it's the rich lady she cleans house for whining about her own husband, a chip in her fine china, her room-temperature tea. Mrs. Thornely is stoic, a working class trooper, going through the motions of her loveless marriage and thankless job fueled by pure inertia. This may be the heyday of the Stones in London, but the only "satisfaction" in the Thornley household comes courtesy of a sticky balm applied weekly to her hubby's hairy back. Mrs. Thornley's life is a walking tragedy of the most commonplace variety.

Hard Labour is Mike Leigh's first entry into the BBC's "Play for Today" series. It's a fine, if typically depressing, character study, perhaps more interesting when viewed as an initial glimmer of better, bigger films to come. The moody husband's job as a security guard at a toy factory brings to mind the later Nostradamus quoting rent-a-cop Brian in Naked. A subplot involving Mrs. Thornley's daughter trying to secure a back alley abortion for a friend hints at the expanded treatment the subject gets in the powerful Vera Drake. There's a fine turn by a young Ben Kingsley (with hair!) as an Indian cab driver foreshadowing another, later Oscar-winning performance. Also, the first appearance of Leigh stalwart Alison Steadman (Life is Sweet, Another Year) in a small role as a prissy daughter-in-law.

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