Produced for the BBC in 1973, HARD LABOUR was imported to the US in 1992 as part of a three-city Mike Leigh retrospective. Festival showings were extremely well-received, prompting a home video release. Filmed with slice-of-life realism, HARD LABOUR is a riveting character study which
focuses on the daily life of an ordinary working-class woman.
The life of Mrs. Thornley (Liz Smith) is one of unrelenting drudgery. Her days are spent cleaning house for Mrs. Stone (Vanessa Harris), a self-absorbed socialite. At home, she cooks, cleans, and cares for her boorish husband and embittered daughter. In their cramped flat, she can find no
respite from the constant bickering and complaining of her ungrateful family. Mr. Thornley (Clifford Kershaw), a night watchman, displays no affection for his spouse but demands sexual satisfaction once per week, on his night off. Soft-spoken and submissive, Mrs. Thornley plods on, never uttering
a word of complaint despite the maltreatment and indifference she endures. Mrs. Thornley finally musters the courage to speak to her priest, admitting in the confessional that she does not love people--specifically her husband--enough. The priest dismisses her with platitudes and goes back to
reading his newspaper. Her cry for help unheard, Mrs. Thornley resignedly returns to her housework.
Far from a feel-good movie, HARD LABOUR is unremittingly bleak, yet it offers fascinating insights into the mind-set of a victimized woman who, instead of lashing out against her oppressors, blames herself and seeks absolution of her sins. Like much of Leigh's work, it employs dramatic realism
in the service of social commentary; an uncompromising indictment of classism and sexism, it's also a humanistic exploration of the psychological mechanisms by which people internalize their own oppression. The near-documentary realism of the production is enhanced by thoroughly convincing
performances. Liz Smith (not to be confused with the gossip column queen) breathes life into the long-suffering Mrs. Thornley. For American audiences, the most recognizable face in the film belongs to Ben Kingsley, who plays an abortion-procuring cabby.
HARD LABOUR was one of Mike Leigh's earliest efforts, and the first in which he worked with his future wife, Alison Steadman (they married shortly after HARD LABOUR was filmed). Here in a supporting role as Mrs. Thornley's daughter-in-law, Steadman went on to star in several other Leigh films,
most notably the award-winning LIFE IS SWEET. (Sexual situations)
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- Released: 1973
- Rating: NR
- Review: Produced for the BBC in 1973, HARD LABOUR was imported to the US in 1992 as part of a three-city Mike Leigh retrospective. Festival showings were extremely well-received, prompting a home video release. Filmed with slice-of-life realism, HARD LABOUR is a r… (more)