The success of Mike Leigh's NAKED prompted the 1994 release on US home video of most of his BBC-TV films dating from 1973-84. HOME SWEET HOME, one of the best of these, is a typical attempt to document the lives of ordinary, working-class Britons. Originally aired in Britain in 1982, the
film is an advanced example of Leigh's well-known improvisational, actor-based approach to filmmaking.
HOME SWEET HOME revolves around three middle-aged postmen: surly alcoholic Gordon (Timothy Spall), dimwitted jokester Harold (Tim Barker), and bitter loner Stan (Eric Richard). Gordon's wife, June (ebullient Su Elliot), flirts with Stan, whose wife long ago abandoned him and his daughter. Stan
has already had an affair with Harold's wife, Hazel (Kay Stonham). The couples appear to be sleeping separately: June and Gordon argue constantly, Hazel and Harold are quietly tense. While Gordon's an ill-humored fool, cretinous Harold is relatively sympathetic--he's good-natured, genuinely kind,
but insufferably slow and inarticulate, reciting song lyrics and dumb riddles instead of conversation. Hazel, obsessed with cheap romance novels, is a seething stew of resentments and disappointments; Harold's inability to comprehend her emotional needs drives her into sublimated furies.
Social worker Melody Henderson (Frances Barber), an unbearably upbeat do-gooder, visits Stan to discuss his teenaged daughter, currently living in an orphanage, whom he hasn't seen much in the last year. When he finally visits the withdrawn and depressed Tina (Lorraine Brunning), Melody is
relentlessly cheerful while father and daughter sit together in wordless agonies of alienation. Melody manages to maneuver Stan into inviting Tina to stay with him over the weekend. When he brings her to Gordon's house for dinner, Gordon gets predictably drunk, while a boundlessly energetic June
chats up a storm and Tina fades into the background. Just as Stan and June sneak a kiss in the kitchen, Hazel comes by for a heart-to-heart. Everyone's frustrations boil over, with Tina hiding from the angry words under her matted hair. Leaving Gordon and June screaming on the sidewalk, Stan
drives Tina back to the orphanage in sober silence. Hazel angrily confesses her infidelity to Harold, who is at first uncomprehending, then incredulous. Finally, he insists flatly that she stop, which only enrages her further. Melody is replaced by another social worker, Dave (Lloyd Peters), who
spews sociological jargon instead of cheer.
HOME SWEET HOME is essentially a domestic comedy, but it's far from funny: the characters' pain and humiliation are always close to the surface, even in the more farcical scenes. At times, in fact, the film is almost painful to watch, which is a testament to the depth and humanity of the people
Leigh and his talented cast create. The women in particular are given the kind of powerfully textured, clearly developed personalities rarely found in made-for-TV fare. Elliot and Stonham are marvelous, and Brunning, who has little dialogue, is unforgettable. Nearly as heartbreaking is the
terminally dense Barker, who never slips into clownishness; Richard projects a conflicted, unsettled quality that serves as the film's emotional focus; Barber is a howl. One of Leigh's most articulate films, HOME SWEET HOME points in the direction that his cinematic career would take: like his
more celebrated feature film work, it gives memorable expression to the day-to-day experience of working-class life during the decline of the British welfare state. (Profanity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1982
- Rating: NR
- Review: The success of Mike Leigh's NAKED prompted the 1994 release on US home video of most of his BBC-TV films dating from 1973-84. HOME SWEET HOME, one of the best of these, is a typical attempt to document the lives of ordinary, working-class Britons. Original… (more)