Tony Whitehead
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‘You’ve gotta laugh’
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This chapter opens with a general discussion on Mike Leigh, who is considered to be Britain's greatest film director and who has carved a unique niche in the film making industry. Among his recent films, Vera Drake was released thirty-four years since his debut feature. Since his return to the cinema, he has consistently written and directed a film every two or three years, with occasional returns to the theatre, the medium in which he began his career. He was not, therefore, an obscure talent who has been waiting to be discovered. Even now more awards have come his way from abroad than at home and much of the critical response to his work in the UK has been ambivalent. The ‘breakthrough’ of Vera Drake was certainly preceded by a turning point in his reputation—and his success at the box office—with the release of Secrets and Lies in 1996, but even that came a quarter of century after Bleak Moments. He worked painstakingly with his actors to create fully rounded characters whose lives and personalities are too complex to be shoehorned into the tidy conventions of realistic drama derived from the theatrical concepts of the well-made play.

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