After two strong but rather grim projects--BLEAK MOMENTS (1971) and HARD LABOUR (1973), the telefilm NUTS IN MAY showed British viewers that writer-director Mike Leigh had a humorous side as well, one that has been evident ever since. An urban civil servant and his nitwit wife, both sad
examples of what happens to hippies when they pass 30, take on the English countryside in a camping vacation; the countryside wins.
Keith Pratt (Roger Sloman) and his wife Candice-Marie (Alison Steadman) arrive at a campsite in Dorset, where they plan to spend their vacation, sleeping in a tent and taking hiking trips to see the local scenery. Keith is a control freak who regularly measures the weather with various instruments
and lectures his wife (and anyone else in earshot) about the importance of proper eating. Candice-Marie is a dim bulb who works in a toy store, writes bad poetry, and plays folk songs on her guitar (accompanied by Keith on banjo). On their first day's wanderings, they visit a local castle and
attempt to buy unpasteurized milk from a local farmer (Matthew Guiness), who considers them fools for paying more for untreated milk.
Back at their campsite, they are distressed at their new neighbor Ray (Anthony O'Donnell), a student gym teacher who plays his radio loudly, even after Keith asks him to turn it down. They move their tent further away, but after they later give Ray a lift when he is stranded in the rain,
Candice-Marie chats with him, to Keith's annoyance. When his jealousy explodes into a fit, Candice-Marie refuses to speak to him until he apologizes to Ray. They invite him over for a cup of tea, but after a few minutes of Keith's pontificating on proper diet and an interminable rendition of one
of their self-composed folk ditties, Ray is more than happy to return to his lonely tent.
The next day, the campsite is joined by Finger (Stephen Bill) and Honky (Sheila Kelley), who arrive on a motorcycle. Their lack of consideration for other campers is matched only by their utter lack of knowledge about such camping essentials as how to pitch a tent. Hitting it off with Ray, they
spend the night at a nearby pub and return drunk and noisy, forcing Keith to get up and demand that they be quiet. In the morning, Finger pulls branches off trees which he plans to use to build a fire, despite camp rules to the contrary. Driven to the breaking point by Finger's stupidity and
rudeness, Keith attempts a "citizen's arrest," leading to a battle with large tree branches. Appalled at his non-pacifist behavior, Keith runs off into the woods. When he returns, he and Candice-Marie leave. After being hassled by an officious police officer (Richard Ireson) when they stop by the
side of the road to examine a map, the pair spend the night camped on the grounds of the dairy farmer.
Like all of Mike Leigh's work, NUTS IN MAY was devised by conducting improvisations with his cast, which he observed and used as the basis for a script. The characters of Keith and Candice-Marie originated in a stage play, Wholesome Glory; Leigh and actors Roger Sloman and Alison Steadman (Leigh's
wife) thought it would be amusing to see how these urban fauna would react in the woods. Also, as in most of Leigh's work, NUTS IN MAY is driven almost entirely by the characters; the main thrust of the plot is simply, when will Keith explode? Keith and Candice-Marie may be easy subjects for
laughter, but that doesn't make laughing at them any less enjoyable. They are given a proper pair of nemeses in Honky and Finger, whose ignorance of what it takes to get by in the country (she totters about on stacked heels, he looks for the nearest pub) is a match for Keith's fastidiousness.
Aside from the climactic confrontation, the highlight is the scene in which Keith and Candice-Marie heedlessly torture Ray, lecturing about "the killer whites--white sugar, white flour," and their other enlightened habits. (When Ray, hardly the cleverest son of Britain, asks if he might smoke,
Candice-Marie pouts, "If I could take your lung, put it on the table and cut it in half, I think you'd be horrified.") Although some of the subtleties of place will be lost on American audiences, NUTS IN MAY is a first-rate work from a unique filmmaker. (Profanity.)
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- Released: 1976
- Rating: NR
- Review: After two strong but rather grim projects--BLEAK MOMENTS (1971) and HARD LABOUR (1973), the telefilm NUTS IN MAY showed British viewers that writer-director Mike Leigh had a humorous side as well, one that has been evident ever since. An urban civil servan… (more)