“ Genre: Drama / Theatrical Release: 1983 / Suitable for 15 years and over / Director: Mike Leigh / Actors: Alfred Molina, Marion Bailey, Tim Roth, Jeff Robert, Gary Oldman ... / DVD released 2007-09-03 at ITV DVD / Features of the DVD: PAL, Special Edition „
Perhaps my initial perceptions were all wrong. After reading somewhere that this was "skinhead movie", I sat down and watched Meantime anticipating only that; what was shown, however, was how one man eventually ended up as a neo-Nazi from the motivations that preceded him. Considering my interest in the white power skinhead subculture (note, interest, not involvement), I was left feeling frustrated by this film considering it did not deliver what I first expected.
What Meantime is primarily concerned with is the relationship between brothers Mark (Phil Daniels) and Colin (Tim Roth). The two live with their parents (Pam Ferris, Jeff Robert) on a rough council estate, struggling to stay aloft, financially, on the dole, and spend most of their time in the pub, occasionally knocking about with an obnoxious skinhead named Coxy (Gary Oldman), doing nothing in particular.
Less a film with plot than it is an ensemble of various argumentative scenes to emphasise desperation, Meantime is a bleak depiction of working-class life in the Thatcher era. Leigh's unpleasant atmosphere emphasises seclusion and carries the film through to the end, and there are some convincing performances from the actors involved (current fans of Roth, Daniels and Oldman, particularly, may want to check this one out to judge for themselves what impressive range as actors these future stars ended up having).
Those factors may be fine and all, but considering that the main focus of the film is the two brothers, whose contrasting relationship isn't all that interesting, then the overall experience suffers. Director Mike Leigh would've been better focusing his attention upon Oldman's racially-motivated skinhead character, who threatens most of all to bring the film to life, but never really has enough screen time to do so.
It would be unfair of me to give a negative review of this film based purely on being proven wrong by my initial perceptions. That said, Meantime never really convinced me this was a film that deserved my undivided attention in its depiction of underclass hopelessness in 80s Britain. Usually, it'd be a subject that I find fascinating, but the continuing emphasis on struggle, boredom and conflict (not to mention Andrew Dickson's irritating piano score) only resulted in this being a pretty drab affair overall. Given the choice, I don't think I will want to watch the film again any time soon.
(C) Andy Carrington, 2011.
Colin Pollack lives with his brother, Mike, and parents, Frank and Mavis in Thatcher's London in the eighties. Colin is downtrodden and treated as if he is stupid by his family and all around him, as well as being unemployed, as are Mike and Frank and almost everyone they know. The atmosphere at home is frosty and argumentative, especially when Mavis' sister, Barbara, is mentioned - Barbara, married to John, has gone up in the world and now lives in the suburbs, throwing the occasional crumb to the Pollacks. When Barbara tells Colin she has found him a painting and decorating job in her own house, he is reluctant, but she is paying him good money. Will he be able to stand on his own two feet for once and decide whether he is going to do the job or not? Or will Mike fill his shoes as usual?
Directed by Mike Leigh, this film was made in 1984 and was meant to be a representation of Thatcher's Britain for the working classes. Mike Leigh is perhaps most famous for Abigail's Party, a BBC television play made in the seventies, but who has also directed the fabulous Secrets & Lies and Vera Drake. He is known for his unusual form of directing. Once his actors are chosen, he sits them down and tells them there is no script, forcing them to improvise through constant interaction - the end result is his edited version of what he filmed. This generally results in very character-heavy films, in which the actors have had substantial time to get to grips with who they are playing. The plots, on the other hand are of secondary importance. This is very much the case with this film.
The main role of Colin is played by a young Tim Roth (before his Hollywood days) and truly is a marvel. Colin initially comes across as 'retarded' (the film's words, not mine), but is really just bowed down under the weight of everyone's bullying. He is shy and retiring and needs encouraging to bring him out of his shell, but instead of this happening, he is treated like an idiot and, as Tim Roth describes in the extras, "ran away and ran inwards". The film is basically the story of his realisation that, if he doesn't change the way other people see him, he will always be the downtrodden one. Unfortunately, it seems as though he has an uphill struggle, especially when his brother, Mike, constantly puts him in his place, and his parents and aunt treat him like a child. Roth clearly got to grips with the character of Colin in an extraordinary way and was a real pleasure to watch - although at times it was hard-going because of the enormity of his task.
Phil Daniels plays Mike and was really the reason I watched the film. Probably most famous for his role in Quadrophenia, Daniels is almost unrecognisable as Mike, with a mop of thick dark hair, a moustache and massive glasses - it is a struggle to remember that people did actually look like that back in the eighties and I did spend the first half hour trying not to laugh every time he appeared on screen. Mike comes across as an obnoxious yob at first; he has a sarcastic comment for everyone and is clearly furious about his unemployed predicament. However, he softens as the film continues, especially when portrayed next to his skinhead friend, Coxy. By the end of the film, he is still far from likable, but he is much more understandable - and that has a lot to do with Phil Daniels' performance. Tim Roth's Colin was still the main focus of the film, but Daniels' Mike comes a close second, and the two worked well together.
I was amazed to realise that Pam Ferris plays Mavis Pollack. She usually plays much more jolly characters, such as Ma Larkin in The Darling Buds of May and Laura Thyme in Rosemary and Thyme. As Mavis, she is a miserable shrew of a woman who has simply been beaten down by the disappointments of life. She isn't pleasant, but her state of mind is understandable. Marion Bailey plays her sister, Barbara, and is both annoying and sympathetic at the same time - she has no intention of being patronising, but just doesn't understand the difficulties her sister is going through. The difference between Mavis and Barbara is every bit as strong as that between Colin and Mike. The two husbands, played by Jeff Robert and Alfred Molina, were very much pushed into the background by the others, but were nevertheless good in what they had to do.
Two other characters that deserve a mention are Coxy (Gary Oldman) and Hayley (Tilly Vosburgh). Coxy is the archetypal skinhead, who is constantly drunk, rude to everyone and is actually quite frightening. I'm not entirely sure of the wisdom of this stereotyping, but the touch of humour and over-acting that Oldman brings to it makes it a little more palatable. He really is threatening at times though, especially towards Hayley. Hayley is an interesting character that I really wish had been given more leeway in the film. She is shy and timid and it isn't quite clear what the point of her character is at all, as if part of it was cut out in the editing process. Vosburgh was excellent in the role though and I would have loved to see more layers of her character.
The problem with character pieces like this is that it does often mean that the plot is sacrificed - and that certainly is the case here. The 'plot' is basically about Colin's growing up, but that doesn't become obvious until very near the end. For those who like a real story to get their teeth into, along with lots of action, there isn't really much of that here. There are a lot of close-ups of people's faces to enable the viewer to understand what they are thinking/going through and there are also several shots of people, mainly Mike, just walking. The only action comes from Coxy and his 'flirting' with Hayley. Much of the script could come straight out of anyone's living room - it is just ordinary, every day speech. If it weren't for the characters, this film wouldn't be worth a second glance. For those who find quality of film important, there could be a disappointment here. It is perfectly watchable, but a little grainy on occasion, without the clarity of more up-to-date films.
Most extras add something to the film if the viewer is really interested in it and otherwise, are only worth a glance. All three extras with this DVD are well worth watching. The first is an interview with Mike Leigh and gives his view on making the film, which, because of his forays into improvisation are really interesting. It seems like a strange way to make a film, but the depth it adds to his characters seems to be worth it. Then there's an interview with Tim Roth, which mainly focuses on what it was like to work with Mike, as well as certain aspects of his character. It was a fascinating interview that really helped to round off the character of Colin; I certainly have a lot more respect for Tim Roth and his acting abilities now. Finally, there's an interview with Marion Bailey, which gives her insight into Barbara and why she behaves in the way that she does. What is clear from the extras is the enormous amount of work that went into putting these characters together and just how much the actors respected Mike Leigh's work. The only thing missing for me was an interview with Phil Daniels.
This is an unusual film that encapsulated a certain place at a certain time and will be of most interest to those who remember that time. Others could find it very depressing, even pointless because of the lack of plot. I think it's worth watching for the character development - although it does need a lot of concentration to follow what's going on; this isn't a film you can half watch while you are doing something else. If you like Mike Leigh's work, or any of the main actors, then I recommend giving it a watch. Four stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £5.49.
Classification: 15 (for swearing)
Running time: 90 minutes
RELEASED: 1983 (15 certificate)
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
DEVISED & DIRECTED BY MIKE LEIGH
JEFF ROBERT (as Frank)
PAM FERRIS (as Mavis)
PHIL DANIELS (as Mark)
TIM ROTH (as Colin)
GARY OLDMAN (as Coxy)
MARION BAILEY (as Barbara)
ALFRED MOLINA (as John)
"Meantime" is a Mike Leigh film which I believe was initially made for television, and later released on video, CD and DVD. I'm not sure if the script was largely adlibbed by the actors (as is often the case with Mike Leigh's work) or whether the cast had definite lines to work with.
I first saw "Meantime" on TV in 1984, and despite me being in a not very good frame of mind at the time due to life's little turmoils, my eyes were fixed to the screen from beginning to end.
The film doesn't tell a story as such - in what is often Mike Leigh's style, it homes in on characters rather than a story line, and as the whole thing unfolds, various individuals within the situation reveal unexpected parts of their personalities. It really is just a slice of a family's life.
Mavis and her husband Frank live with their two teenage sons (Mark and Colin) in a crumbling tower block in London's East End. Life is a battle for the family, and their days are spent drinking endless cups of tea, eating even worse food than I do, arguing, and completely missing the point about everything. Occasionally, Mavis' sister Barbara pays a visit - Barbara had the same start in life as Mavis, but she managed to climb up the social ladder and lives in a nice house in Chigwell, with her husband John. The only real reason Barbara visits her sister is to gloat over the fact that she has managed to rise above having a similar lifestyle to Mavis and Frank.
Brothers Colin and Mark are - particularly Mark - at constant loggerheads with their father, and are a pair of budding yobs, largely influenced by the local skinhead bad boy, Coxy.
I'll give below a brief synopsis of each of the main characters:
Mavis probably looks older than her years, has an "edge" to her personality, and a voice like a screaming fishwife. She is dowdy, probably suffering from an underlying depression, and has little or no pleasure in her life. Her sons and husband are a constant source of irritation to her, yet occasionally she does seem to show a tiny little soft spot for Colin. Mavis is a very unhappy lady, jaded and dowdy, yet lacking the imagination to improve her situation in life. Rather than viewing her gloating sister Barbara as an example to strive towards, Mavis is simply eaten up with jealousy.
Chained to Mavis in wedlock, Frank is a scathing, very critical - yet extremely lazy man. Rather like a modern-day Alf Garnet, the most he ever does with his life is drink tea, moan, shout at his wife & sons, loudly comment on the state of the world, and visit the dole office each week to sign on. Frank seems to hate his son Mark - failing to see that Mark is simply a younger version of himself. I also feel that Frank maybe jealous of Mark, as he sees the boy as having more opportunity to constructively rebel against the lot he has been given in life than he had himself at the same age.
Mark is a pseudo-intellect, and fancies himself as a bit of a protagonist.....he's more of an antagonist in reality. Mark spends most of his time hanging out with his friend Coxy, relentlessly teasing his brother Colin, playing pool in the pub, signing on the dole and listening to loud punk music in his bedroom. Argumentative and reactionary, Mark truly is a chip off the old block, being a carbon copy of his father Frank. There are a couple of points during the film where he shows an awkward sort of brotherly affection towards Colin, but those moments are few and far between. Frustrated and angry with the lifestyle he blames his parents for creating, Mark is constantly looking for ways to break free.
Colin is Frank and Mavis' elder child, though it appears he is younger than Mark due to his almost completely submissive nature. Gentle natured and passive, he bumbles his way through life, and is viewed as having moderate learning difficulties, but there are one or two points within the film that hint more towards Colin being extremely subverted, hence extremely shy, to the point of being a total doormat, rather than having any learning problems. It's Colin's private dream to be "one of the gang" and join Mark and Coxy in their activities. Within the home, Colin is treated as an object of fun at best, and at worst is the butt of the rest of the family's anger - yet, his parents and brother will stand up for him to the end, if they feel an outsider is unfairly criticising or taking advantage of him.
Tarred with the same brush of life as her sister Mavis, Barbara was lucky enough to pass some exams at school, get to work in a bank, have elocution lessons, and marry a man who took her out of the squalor of that part of London's East End, to live in a newly-built semi in Chigwell. Barbara feels a familial duty to Frank, Mavis and the boys, but she looks down her nose at them and constantly makes rather cruel remarks which compare what she views as her success next to their failure. Forever flouting what she has become in Mavis' face, Barbara is the archetypal pseudo snob; yet, she hides a painful secret.
John is Barbara's husband. He has a good job, yet has the personality of a dead slug. Boring, yet at the same time providing Barbara with the materialistic lifestyle she has always craved, he too frowns upon Mavis, Frank and the boys. At the end of the day, John is just a crashing bore who has very little conversation, and can offer his wife Barbara no proper understanding or sympathy regarding her painful secret. Amongst other non-material things, John is unable to give Barbara the affection she craves.
Coxy is just a yob, pure and simple. Hyperactive, nasty and perhaps borderline psychopath, he cares little or nothing for anybody, including himself. Mark can just about handle him - the reason he manages that is because Mark is actually more intelligent than Coxy, and can floor him with some well thought out words. Coxy is someone who will never change - he's the bad boy of the district who everybody looks at nervously when he walks into the pub. In reality, he's just a hooting, moronic, neanderthal yob. It's very difficult for me to be objective about the character, as he reminds me enormously of the ex husband of one of my cousins.
"Meantime" is a delicious debacle of the trials and tribulations of a working class family. The film has an overall sense of hopelessness and despair about it, and can at times seem quite depressing, but there is a lot of humour in there too. I sometimes can find it very frustrating to watch, despite it being one of my all-time favourite films, because I just want to get hold of all the characters and give them a good shake - but at the same time, I feel that's the reaction Mike Leigh intended when he devised and produced this film.
The acting by all concerned is superb. I don't think anybody could have played the part of lunatic Coxy better than Gary Oldman, nor do I believe that the character of Mavis could have been more accurately portrayed by anyone other than Pam Ferris. Phil Daniels is brilliant as Mark; so is Marion Bailey as Barbara, and Jeff Robert plays the character of Frank to a T - but for me the greatest acting achievment in this film comes from Tim Roth as Colin. This was the first major acting part of Tim Roth's career, and since then he has just gone from strength to strength. It is rare to see an actor really get right inside the heart and soul of the character they are playing, but Tim manages it to perfection with the character of Colin.
"Meantime" is dark, depressing, hopeless - even pointless - but it's a marvellously well-acted, skilfully devised work that I feel has over the years been highly underrated. The life situation of the characters involved is bleak to the point of being tragic, but the film is also highly amusing in parts, and is definitely one of my all-time favourites. I never tire of watching it.
The only problem I have encountered with "Meantime" is that for some reason, when it was released on video, the recording quality was well below par. At first, I thought I'd just picked up a duff piece of tape, but I borrowed a friend's copy and it had the same problem. Recently, I have (in video clip sections of approximately 10 minutes each) viewed "Meantime" on YouTube, and the quality is the same as on my copy and that of my friend's.
If you love Mike Leigh films but have not yet seen "Meantime", or if you are not familiar with all that this wonderful director has to offer, yet would like to give some of his offerings a try, "Meantime" can be purchased as follows:
- available for rental at dvd.easycinema.com on DVD, but no price details are given.
Oh dear! There are several websites which offer "Meantime" for sale, but for some reason I can't get any of them to load. It's not my computer, as I can access other web pages perfectly. In case you have more luck than me, try these.....?
.....or, you can search for it on YouTube and watch it in sections? If that is your preferred method, just type "Mike Leigh's Meantime" into YouTube's search window, and hunt for part 1 - part 2 and onwards should appear in the right-hand panel.
Sorry about that - I've tried to load those pages again....still with no joy, but thanks for reading!