High Hopes

High Hopes ★★★★★

High Hopes, like Meantime before it, can easily be considered a reaction to Thatcher's Britain, but on this rewatch (one of many down the years) one scene suddenly had an extra potency. It's about half hour in and it's when Edna Dore's pensioner has had to take shelter in her gentrified next door neighbour's home. Here, she is hectored appallingly and insensitively by Lesley Manville's yuppie;

"It's rather a large house for one person don't you agree? You can hardly justify having three bedrooms though can you?"

"It's my home"

"Yes it is at the moment I'll grant you that. But I'm not sure it wouldn't be better appreciated by a professional couple or even a family"

"I've always lived there"

"Yes that's as may be, but times change"

And there we have the current government's bedroom tax/spare room subsidy argument in a nutshell. That flagrant disregard for how a certain class of people live by those with money and power.

In a returning to office for the Tory party, High Hopes still has something to say.

It's a Leigh film I have a real soft spot for on account of the central performances from Phil Davis and Ruth Sheen as the left wing but realistic couple. Their's is not a perfect relationship (indeed it's probably true to say no one has a perfect relationship in High Hopes) she wants kids, he doesn't - but it's the closest one Leigh offers us and they get by regardless of their differences on humour and genuine love and affection. The actors have great chemistry and it's a believable coupling right there on the screen.

It's true to say that the other characters in the film are heightened and satirical stereotypes; the upwardly mobile yuppies who have bought the former council house in the now gentrified Kings Cross, and the aspirational grotesques are some of the broadest characterisations Leigh has ever developed for the screen but there's a truth inherent in each of them and they're carefully crafted by the actors. Also, Leigh freely admits that, for better or worse, the heightened nature was intentional to convey a more empathetic audience link with Davis and Sheen.

High Hopes isn't always a comfortable watch and that's not just down the various histrionics but also, and perhaps largely, because of Edna Dore's weary helpless yet ultimately dignified portrayal of an old woman lost to the changes in the late 20th century and succumbing to dementia. When Leigh allows the camera to linger on her face, every emotion is there to be mined from each crevice, wrinkle and trembling facial muscle. It's a superlative performance in a film brimming with talent.

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