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Meantime
cast: Phil Daniels, Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, Alfred Molina, and Pam Ferris

director: Mike Leigh

102 minutes (15) 1984
Prism Leisure DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Andrew Hook
This made for television movie showcases some quality emerging British talent, and is typical of Mike Leigh's product. Intended as a searing social commentary on the uselessness of class set against an accurate backdrop of Thatcher's Britain, Meantime doesn't, however, rise much above what it sets out to do. It's an effective snapshot, but no more than that. And, unfortunately, some awfully intrusive piano music tests the patience of the viewer to see the movie through to the end.

Barbara (Marion Bailey) and Mavis (Pam Ferris) are sisters with totally different temperaments and intellects. Having done well for herself by marrying a businessman, Barbara has become a childless housewife. With no need to work, and no reason to exist other than as a wife, her boredom contrasts nicely with that forced upon Mavis' family living on the breadline and the dole. Mavis' husband, Frank (Jeff Robert), constantly berates his sons for doing nothing although he is also out of work. And paralleling the sisters' relationship, Mavis' sons are also opposites: Mark (Phil Daniels) is outspoken whilst backward Colin (Tim Roth) keeps it all in. Despite being in their early twenties, the sons share a cramped room in their parents' council flat. Constantly bickering, things come to a head when Barbara suggests that Colin should work for her and the status quo within the family threatens to become undone.

Whereas the acting and dialogue are pitch perfect, the problem with Meantime is that the movie is more about caricature study than character study, and whereas a realistic documentary feel might have been developed, instead it descends into parody with little sympathy for those in their roles. Gary Oldman's skinhead, Coxy, is a perfect example of this. If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, then Coxy is a skinhead designed by a committee. If Leigh wants us to acknowledge the plight of his characters as being due to the constraints and unfairness inherent in Thatcher's Britain, then he needs to do more than rip the piss out of them.

It's possible; of course, that the ensuing 20 years have dated this movie so badly that it has become no more valuable than a cliché. Film historians and Leigh fans will - quite rightly - love it, but it's not particularly relevant for today's audiences. By showing the boredom of life on the dole, the film becomes self-defeating. Meantime is undoubtedly a good film, but it's not a very interesting one.
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