Synopsis Perpetually happy North Londoner Poppy (Sally Hawkins) tries to see the best in everything and everyone. Even uptight, miserable driving instructor Scott (Eddie Marsan).
This little gem had been sat in my collection for a while before I finally decided to take the plunge last night and stick it in the DVD player. I’m not sure what took me so long to be honest. I can only imagine something about the bright cerise coloured case and it being a Mike Leigh film meant I kept subconsciously thinking ” naaaaaahh not in the mood. I’ll watch that later.” I’m glad I finally got around to it because it was a genuinely enjoyable experience. I love Mike Leigh efforts in the same way I love Shane Meadows’; always feel more enriched for watching them but generally need to be in the right mood. Turns out the mood you’re in matters less when the movie will leave you feeling upbeat regardless.
In other hands this film could have been nerve shreddingly annoyingly. In essence few things annoy me more in movies than perpetually happy characters. They come across as false and disingenuous. They’re usually deeply flawed, hiding something which, by the time I find out about I hate them so much I don’t care about, and I just desperately want them to get hit by buses. Multiple buses.
It was genuinely refreshing then that not once during the film did I hope for a grizzly end for Poppy and her immovable grin. Knowing Leigh’s methods that has to be almost entirely credited to Sally Hawkins. Leigh tends to almost always provide his actors with nothing more than narrative directions as opposed to anything resembling a traditional script. The actors are then allowed to improvise and develop their character’s dialogue and interactions with the world around them. This takes a lot of trust on Leigh’s part. Trust that was well paid off with the casting of Hawkins. Poppy’s happiness always feels honest in a way that it is difficult to qualify. The juxtaposition of her motherly nature with her primary school kids and the odd moments where you see a crack in her smile remind you she is only trying to see good in the world, rather than trying to con the world into buying whatever it is she’s selling.
Eddie Marsan is a bit of a scene stealer though, as he is in so many things, as borderline psycho driving instructor Scott. Spewing pseudo Marxist bullshit from the passenger seat of his liveried Ford Focus. Too be honest though if I were a driving instructor I think I would be pretty bitter as well. The beauty of his character is his unrelenting bile at the world around him and his inability to cope with Poppy’s good nature. You don’t get any big revelations or outpourings about what it is that makes him so twisted. The only insight you get is the occasional searching question from Poppy that brings a short silence and a drop in his temper.
As with a lot of Mike Leigh films the story in which the characters exist is skeletal. The narrative exists to give the characters something to do, but the characters are the story. And in essence this is as simple a story as you can get. No one else can tell you how to be happy. Even if they themselves are blissfully happy. Because happiness is something different to each of us.
So don’t expect too much turmoil but do expect to feel pretty chirpy by the end of it. Unless you’re a driving instructor in which case you might see something of yourself in Scott and just get depressed. In fact I recommend this to everyone except easily enraged driving instructors named Scott. And I defy anyone not to say Enrah Har the first time they check their mirrors after watching this.
Director: Mike Leigh -British auteur famous for his small character driven pieces where the story is as much the people as the journey. Most famous for Oscar nominated Secrets & Lies
Written By: Mike Leigh (original screenplay)
Key Cast: Sally Hawkins, Eddie Marsan and Alexis Zegerman
- No trivia of interest
Available on streaming across platforms, DVD and BlueRay.