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HARD LABOUR (director/writer: Mike Leigh; cinematographer: Tony Pierce-Roberts; editor: Christopher Rowland; cast: Liz Smith (Mrs. Thornley), Clifford Kershaw (Mr. Jim Thornley), Vanessa Harris (Mrs. Stone), Polly Hemingway (Ann Thornley), Bernard Hill (Edward Thornley), Keith Washington (Mr. Shaw), Ben Kingsley (Naseem, Pakistani taxi driver), Linda Beckett (Julie), Alison Steadman (Veronica), Alan Erasmus (Barry), Cyril Varley (Mr. Stone), Hal Jeayes (Priest); Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Tony Garnett; Water Bearer Films; 1973-UK)
“Bleak slice of life family drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Made for TV (BBC’s ‘Play For Today’ series which ran from 1970-1984) bleak slice of life family drama. It’s writer-director Mike Leigh’s (“Topsy-Turvy”) first TV film. It was released in the USA on video September 14, 1994.Leigh’s debut film of Bleak Moments came in 1971, and he took a 17-year break from feature filmmaking choosing to work instead for British television and direct plays. It has Ben Kingsley in a small role early on in his career as a friendly Pakistani taxi driver.

Hard Labour pays attention to a working class family in Salford, who lead an unhappy life. The film is seen through the eyes of the middle-aged matriarch Mrs. Thornley (Liz Smith), who works as a maid for the uppity wealthy Mrs. Stone (Vanessa Harris), is saddled with a cold, hard-drinking and demanding yahoo hubby named Jim (Clifford Kershaw), and uncaring grown children Ann (Polly Hemingway) and Edward (Bernard Hill).

Mrs. Thornley has no joy in her life, either at work where she must please her lady boss and hear about her insignificant problems to at home where she is the always busy homemaker for an uncaring family and stuck in a loveless marriage. She finally is so fed up with her life that she seeks help from a priest during a confessional, and he can only give her a dogmatic unconcerned response to pray to God.

There’s plenty of gloom, realism, emotional venting and insight into the human condition in this intelligent and uncompromising narrative. The ensemble cast is superb.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”