A working-class family in London’s East End is struggling to stay afloat during the recession under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. Only the mother Mavis is working; father Frank and the couple’s two sons Colin, a timid, chronically shy individual and Mark, an outspoken, headstrong young man, are on the dole. This situation is contrasted by the presence of Mavis’s sister Barbara, and her husband John, whose financial and social loftiness appears to be a comfortable facade over the unspoken soreness of a lackluster marriage.
A slow-burning depiction of economic degradation in Thatcher’s England, Mike Leigh’s Meantime is the culmination of the writer-director’s pioneering work in television. Unemployment is rampant in London’s working-class East End, where a middle-aged couple and their two sons languish in a claustrophobic public-housing flat. As the brothers (Phil Daniels and Tim Roth) grow increasingly disaffected, Leigh punctuates the grinding boredom of their daily existence with tense encounters, including with a priggish aunt (Marion Bailey) who has managed to become middle-class and a blithering skinhead on the verge of psychosis (a scene-stealing Gary Oldman, in his first major role). Informed by Leigh’s now trademark improvisational process and propelled by the lurching rhythms of its Beckett-like dialogue, Meantime is an unrelenting, often blisteringly funny look at life on the dole.
Summer’s always been the season for feeling good, but this July and August that’s going to change. Every Monday and Saturday our Modern Classics will try their best to make you feel bad, hopeless, sad, depressed. This summer, the goal is to make you feel like shit, because isn’t that when you feel most alive? Click here to see our full program of Feel Bad Films.