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aka - Happy Go Lucky
United Kingdom 2007
Directed by
Mike Leigh
118 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Synopsis: Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is a 30-year-old North London primary school teacher. She’s a freewheelin’ spirit with a positive take on life but when she decides to take driving lessons, her instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan), tests the limits of her optimism.

After the dour, kitchen sink realism of Vera Drake (2004), Mike Leigh no doubt felt that we deserved some sunshine in our lives. The result is Happy-Go-Lucky. The setting is still London but gone are the drab skies, the post-war rationing and the endless cups of tea (well, the cups of tea are still pretty frequent) and in their place is modern day Camden Town at the height of summer. Gone too is the uneducated little woman with her backyard abortionist’s kit and in her place is Poppy, an indefatigably cheery single who has a job she loves, a great bunch of friends and a flatmate (Alexis Zegerman) who is also her best friend. “Smile and the world smiles with you” is a dictum that Poppy has made completely her own. In fact she is so relentlessly positive that the curmudgeonly amongst the audience will find their forbearance tested. “Has Leigh lost the plot?”, one is wont to ask after 20 minutes or so. But then along comes Scott – an earnest and uptight little man and dramatically the film opens out as Polly gradually discovers that that exterior conceals the paranoid, racist world-view of an individual with an anger management problem that is getting out of control. Although she sees the hurt little boy behind the aggro, Scott is an adult and what can she do except fpr trying to spread good cheer?

Leigh’s film is essentially a portrait of Polly, a character whose apparent superficiality masks a depth of intelligence that is more emotional than intellectual. The film, which was also written by Leigh, marvelously reveals that depth but it is also, very much in the realist tradition, a portrait of a social situation. Thus we also get, typically enough from Leigh, some great characters and as the film is largely comedic in spirit, albeit in a bitter-sweet way, some amusing ones - a day trip to visit Poppy’s heavily pregnant sister is very entertaining but the funniest scene is provided by a flamenco teacher in the grip of a broken relationship.

As ever with Leigh the acting is superb. Both Hawkins and Marsan had secondary roles in Vera Drake but even if you have not seen that film you will appreciate how good both are here with Marsan galvanizing the screen with pernt-up intensity in what was for him a break-out role. The support cast, many of whom have worked with Leigh before, are also excellent. Some might say that in places Leigh slightly overstates his case (an overlong shot of a pensive Poppy gazing through a window, a nightclub scene with Blur’s Common People pumping out) but he is an undoubted master of his craft and Happy-Go-Lucky is yet another confirmation of this fact.




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