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Mike Leigh

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Happy-Go-Lucky DVD Sally Hawkins stars as the exuberant and cheerful central character of director... more info $9.98was $9.98 Buy Now

Naked: The Criterion Collection... Winner of the Best Director and Best Actor awards at the Cannes Film Festival,... more info $39.95was $39.95 Buy Now

Topsy-Turvy: The Criterion Collection... The world of Gilbert and Sullivan comes to vivid life in this extraordinary... more info $29.95was $29.95 Buy Now

Mike Leigh Collection, Vol. 1... Three of the legendary director's acclaimed works are showcased in "Mike Leigh... more info $49.95was $49.95 Buy Now

Grown Ups DVD Made for British television by filmmaker Mike Leigh, Grown Ups is a detailed... more info $19.95was $19.95 Buy Now

Abigail's Party DVD What's a social climber to do? In this wickedly funny television adaptation of... more info $19.95was $19.95 Buy Now



Also Known As: Died:
Born: February 20, 1943 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Lancashire, England, GB Profession: director, screenwriter, playwright, actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Noted for his film style in which the commonplace was often tinged with the extraordinary, filmmaker Mike Leigh's process involved improvisational workshops and rehearsals with his actors, often done weeks before a single frame was even shot. The British writer-director worked on stage and in television projects before making a name for himself with critically-lauded films such as "Naked" (1993), "Life is Sweet" (1991), and "Secrets and Lies" (1996). With his highly personal projects, Leigh depicted the uneventful lives of ordinary people, yet presented them with plot twists, deep character development, and intricate humanism. His 2008 film "Happy-Go-Lucky," the story of a North London schoolteacher, continued the director's love of capturing everyday life and presenting it as "heightened realism," as he described it. With numerous awards and nominations for his impressive body of work, Leigh cemented his reputation as one of the most celebrated British directors of all time.Mike Leigh was born on Feb. 20, 1943 in Salford, Greater Manchester, England to Alfred Abraham Leigh, a doctor, and Phyllis Pauline Leigh. His grandfather was a Russian immigrant. Leigh's early years were spent at various film...

Noted for his film style in which the commonplace was often tinged with the extraordinary, filmmaker Mike Leigh's process involved improvisational workshops and rehearsals with his actors, often done weeks before a single frame was even shot. The British writer-director worked on stage and in television projects before making a name for himself with critically-lauded films such as "Naked" (1993), "Life is Sweet" (1991), and "Secrets and Lies" (1996). With his highly personal projects, Leigh depicted the uneventful lives of ordinary people, yet presented them with plot twists, deep character development, and intricate humanism. His 2008 film "Happy-Go-Lucky," the story of a North London schoolteacher, continued the director's love of capturing everyday life and presenting it as "heightened realism," as he described it. With numerous awards and nominations for his impressive body of work, Leigh cemented his reputation as one of the most celebrated British directors of all time.

Mike Leigh was born on Feb. 20, 1943 in Salford, Greater Manchester, England to Alfred Abraham Leigh, a doctor, and Phyllis Pauline Leigh. His grandfather was a Russian immigrant. Leigh's early years were spent at various film schools and universities in London, England, including the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the Camberwell School of Art, the London International School of Film Technique, and the Central School of Art and Design. In 1973, Leigh married actress Alison Steadman, whom he met at East 15 Acting School and directed in his films "Life is Sweet" and "Topsy Turvy" (1999). The couple had two children, Toby and Leo, before they divorced in 2001.

London's experimental fringe theater scene of the 1960s set the backdrop for Leigh's artistic vision, and in 1971, he made his feature film writing and directorial debut with "Bleak Moments." It would take 17 years for Leigh to step behind the camera for another feature film, instead focusing exclusively for British stage and television. The highlight of Leigh's hiatus from big screen projects was "Abigail's Party" (1977), a satirical play he wrote for the stage and for television about the new British class that emerged around the same time. He took the exploration of his characters to new heights, thanks to lengthy improvisational sessions with his actors, including his wife, Steadman, who starred in the play. "Abigail's Party" drew mixed reviews from the British press, but it would be included in the "100 Greatest Television Programmes" list from the British Film Institute.

"Abigail's Party" was one of six episodes Leigh directed for the "Play for Today" (BBC, 1970-1984) series. His TV projects were inspired by theater and echoed the rebellious spirit of independent filmmaking. When asked why he had such passion for the small screen, Leigh said, "There was a time when you just couldn't make an independent, indigenous, serious feature film. And those of us who were lucky enough - Ken Loach, Stephen Frears, Alan Clarke and others - mostly found that at the BBC you could do what you wanted." Leigh also directed the Irish civil war drama "Four Days in July" (BBC, 1985) and the comedy "The Short & Curlies" (Channel 4, 1987) for British television.

After a 17-year break, Leigh made a triumphant return to feature films, citing a deep-rooted love for the craft. "I am much happier making films," Leigh revealed. "Theater is fine when you do it. But film is my natural habitat." His comeback was well received by critics worldwide with "High Hopes" (1988), a bleak look at London during Margaret Thatcher's rule, centering on a working-class couple dealing with an aging mother, pretentious neighbors, and the wife's desire to start a family. Leigh's reputation hit an even higher note in 1991 with "Life is Sweet." The colorful cast of characters included a who's who of British cinema, including Steadman, David Thewlis, Jim Broadbent and Stephen Rea. It took 40 minutes of the film for the audience to realize that Leigh was not being sarcastic at all about the film's title; instead developing and slowly revealing the emotional core of the plot.

Released two years after "Life is Sweet," Leigh's masterpiece "Naked" was a staggering and controversial look at one man's (brilliantly played by David Thewlis) emotional and psychological downfall on the streets of London. Even more amazing than the film was the script itself, which was only 25 pages long at the start of production. Throughout the course of filming, Leigh and his actors created the rest off the cuff, and turned its antihero, Johnny, into one of the most engaging characters in cinema. "Naked" won Best Director and Best Actor at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. The film garnered negative reviews in his home country, yet it won Leigh "indie cred" in Hollywood - something he never wanted. "Given the choice of Hollywood or poking steel pins in my eyes, I'd prefer steel pins," said Leigh, who received an Order of the British Empire honor that same year.

By 1996, despite his honest feelings towards the Hollywood industry, Leigh was the toast of Tinseltown with another slice-of-life look at London's inhabitants. "Secrets and Lies" was the story of a baffled black woman seeking her birth mother, who gets involved with a low-class and despondent white family. Like many of his previous work, Leigh asked the actors to improvise and develop their characters while filming. Stars Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste dazzled onscreen in the gloomy, yet strangely inspirational film that became a critical and commercial success. "Secrets and Lies" earned top nominations for Leigh, Blethyn, and Baptiste at the 1997 Academy Awards, and won the top honor the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

It was tough for the filmmaker's 1997 follow-up "Career Girls" to reach the bar set by his two previous works. The female buddy film was thought to be a disappointment, even by some of Leigh's supporters. He delivered a big comeback with "Topsy Turvy" (1999), a cinematic kaleidoscope that followed the rise and fall of Victorian musical duo W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. With its elaborate sets, costumes, makeup, and score, "Topsy Turvy" was a colorful feast for the senses, yet the emotional grip and humanistic complexity was not far from the writer-director's previous films. Leigh returned to form with "All or Nothing" (2002), the gritty tale of working-class families in modern day London that starred a list of unknown actors. It was another facet of the filmmaker - to work with actors based on talent and what they could bring to the character and story - rather than banking on big name celebrities.

It did not take long for Leigh to add another period drama to his impressive repertoire, with the bleak World War II tale of "Vera Drake" (2004). Imelda Staunton was poignant and intense as the title character, a wife and mother in 1950s England who also happens to perform underground abortions. The tragic and moving film was hailed as Leigh's best work at the time of its release, again earning the filmmaker Academy Award nominations for writing and directing, as well as several acting nods for Staunton. In 2008, Leigh continued his hot streak, helming the contemporary comedy "Happy-Go-Lucky," starring Sally Hawkins as an effervescent schoolteacher named Poppy who keeps a positive outlook on life despite the tragedies surrounding her. The warm humor coupled with Leigh's signature offbeat realism had critics lobbing several award nominations at "Happy-Go-Lucky" in 2009, including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy and a Best Original Screenplay nod.

The writer-director returned the following year with the contemporary dramedy, "Another Year" (2010), starring Leigh regulars Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen as Tom and Gerri, a contented happy couple nearing retirement age. Structured around the four seasons of a single year, the film followed the less stable lives of the various friends and family members who orbit Tom and Gerri's comfortably structured world. Regarded by many as Leigh's most well-crafted work since "Secrets and Lies," "Another Year" garnered him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
2.
3.
  Vera Drake (2004) Director
4.
  All or Nothing (2002) Director
5.
  Topsy-Turvy (1999) Director
6.
  Career Girls (1997) Director
7.
  Secrets & Lies (1996) Director
8.
  Kiss of Death, The (1994) Director
9.
  Hard Labour (1994) Director
10.
  Grown Ups (1993) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Welcome to Hollywood (1998) (Cameo Appearance)
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Spent one year as assistant stage manager and bit part actor
1965:
Wrote and directed first play, "The Box Play," which was produced at Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham
1965:
Associate director of the Midlands Arts Centre Theatre
1966:
Formed Dramagraph production company with author David Halliwell; produced Halliwell's play, "Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs" (Leigh directed); company went bankrupt
:
Joined the Royal Shakespeare Company as an assistant director
1972:
Wrote and directed debut feature film, "Bleak Moments"
1973:
First TV drama "Hard Labour," aired on BBC television's "Play For Today"
1975:
Made series of five "Five Minute Films" (first broadcast in 1982)
1976:
Wrote and directed "Nuts in May," aired on BBC television's "Play For Today"
1977:
Helmed "Abigail's Party," for BBC television's "Play For Today"; starred his then wife Alison Steadman
1979:
Directed and wrote the radio play, "Too Much of a Good Thing"
1982:
Was the subject of the BBC film "Mike Leigh Making Plays"
1984:
Directed the TV movie, "Meantime" (Channel 4)
:
Co-founded with Simon Channing-Williams and Adam Bernstein, Imagine Productions, a film, TV and video production House
1988:
Directed "High Hopes," about an extended working-class family living in King's Cross, London
1990:
Directed third film "Life is Sweet" starring Jim Broadbent, Timothy Spall and wife, Alison Steadman
1991:
Commissioned by the London Film Festival to direct a new promotional trailer for the event, "Moving Pictures"
1993:
Wrote and directed the British film "Naked"
1996:
Helmed the critically and commercially successful film "Secrets & Lies"; re-teamed with Timothy Spall
1999:
Re-teamed with Jim Broadbent for the musical drama "Topsy-Turvy"
2002:
Again collaborated with actor Timothy Spall for "All or Nothing"
2004:
Wrote and directed "Vera Drake," a drama about a woman who illegally helps women induce miscarriages in 1950s England; earned an Oscar nomination for directing and writing
2008:
Helmed the contemporary comedy "Happy-Go-Lucky" starring Sally Hawkins; earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay
2010:
Wrote and directed the British drama, "Another Year"; re-teamed with Jim Broadbent and Lesley Manville from "Topsy-Turvy"
2011:
Directed a revival of his play "Ecstasy" at the West End's Duchess Theatre
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Royal Academy of Dramatic Art: London , England - 1960 - 1962
London International School of Film Technique: - 1963 - 1964
Camberwell School of Art: - 1963 - 1964
Central School of Art and Design: - 1964 - 1965

Notes

Created an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 1998

Leigh "remains a merciless observer of British social types. Leigh has an uncanny gift for creating characters who, even at their most extreme, are such accurate reflections of the way the British think and talk that it comes as a shock to learn that--like the late John Cassavetes--he works without a script." --From Kathleen Carroll's review of "Life Is Sweet" in the Daily News, October 25, 1991.

"Much of the '60s ethos survives in the way Leigh arrives at his complex structures--a process that's collaborative, improvisational, and always political. His starting point is unsually an impulse that has not quite jelled into an idea. 'Actors have to agree to doing a work without knowing what it's going to be about or what their part will be," [Leigh explains]. Rehearsals begin as a series of one-on-one conversations, with Leigh urging each actor to describe as many real people as he or she can. Over time Leigh locates one character in each actor's gallery of acquaintances who resonates with characters the other actors have exhumed. Only then does he bring the cast together for improvisations that transform these potential relationships into dramatic material, which in turn evolves into a 'strictly rehearsed and scripted' story." --From Premiere, April 1989.

Leigh's theater credits include "Babies Grow Old" (1974), "The Silent Majority" (1974), "Abigail's Party" (1977), "Ecstasy" (1979) and "Smelling a Rat" (1988). His BBC credits include "Hard Labour" (1973), "Home Sweet Home" (1982), "Four Days in July" (1984) and for Channel 4 "Meantime" (1981).

Leigh received the Order of the British Empire in 1993.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Alison Steadman. Actor. Married September 15, 1973; separated in 1996.

Family close complete family listing

grandfather:
Mayer Lieberman. Portrait miniaturist. Russian; immigrated to UK in 1902.
father:
Alfred Abraham Leigh. Doctor. Met wife through the Habonim, a left-wing Zionist youth organization; changed name from Lieberman to Leigh.
mother:
Phyllis Pauline Leigh. Met husband through the Habonim, a left-wing Zionist youth organization.
son:
Toby Leigh. Born c. 1978 mother Alison Steadman.
son:
Leo Leigh. Born c. 1981; mother Alison Steadman.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"The Films of Mike Leigh: Embracing the World" Cambridge University Press

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