High Hopes

Starring: Philip Davis, Ruth Sheen, Edna Doré and Heather Tobias
Fabulous Films
RRP: £14.99
Certificate: 15
Available 03 September 2007

Wayne has left home because of an argument about pies. Cyril would like to machine gun the royal family. Rupert and Laetitia Boothe-Brain play yuppie sex games, while deep in suburbia Valerie fails to arouse her husband Martin with a suggestion that he be Michael Douglas and she a virgin. Mrs Bender gets locked out of her home and is criticised by her neighbour for selfishly occupying a whole house in an increasingly fashionable area. Cyril's girlfriend Shirley wants to start a family but gets no encouragement from Cyril, who feels that the world should be spared more babies until everyone already here has a job, place to live and enough to eat. This disparate cast of characters swim in an out of each others lives against a backdrop of London and its suburbs, seamlessly orchestrated by director Mike Leigh...

High Hopes (1988) follows the lives of Shirley and Cyril Bender as they struggle to survive in London under the then current Tory government. Cyril's mum still lives in the district of London in which she brought up her two children (Cyril and Valerie). The last remaining council tenant in the street, Cyril's mum is surrounded by the middle classes who have moved into what used to be a working class district. While Cyril is a socialist, his sister has sold out and spends money on expensive furnishings and luxury goods - even though she has no taste, and ends up surrounding herself with tat.

Cyril's mum is almost 70 and Valerie decides to throw a surprise birthday party. Of course things don't go to plan (or at least to Valerie's plans) and everyone ends up showing their true colours. No one seems to really notice that Cyril's mum is showing all the early signs of Alzheimer's.

I've always been a huge fan of Mike Leigh (A few years ago I was approached by the British Film Institute (BFI) to provide short essays on his work - but due to time constraints and other commitments I only managed to complete an entry for the BFI's Screen Online entry for Nuts in May).

High Hopes is Leigh at his finest. Unlike many of his previous works (Nuts in May; Abigail's Party) his characters are not really caricatures of segments of society - well, apart from the Yuppie couple Laetitia and Rupert Boothe-Brain. But, like Abigail's Party, he does take a social gathering and turning it into a total nightmare. I couldn't help thinking that Heather Tobias's portrayal of Valerie Burke was a little too close to Alison Steadman's Beverly in Abigail's Party.

Extras include Original Theatrical Poster (which is too small really and it's impossible to use the zoom function); Stills Gallery; Original Production Notes (In Brief and The Original Mike Leigh Interview); Synopsis (for some unfathomable reason); Original Biographies (which, as the title suggests, date from the year of the movie's release - so if you want more up-to-date biographies you'll need to search the Internet. You may be surprised to learn that Edna Doré, who plays Mrs Bender, is still alive and is still acting); Mike Leigh on High Hopes (a 4 min interview with the director); and High Hopes "On Set" News Footage (4 mins behind the scenes).

The press release we received claimed that this was the first time that the movie has been released on DVD. That's not strictly true. While this might be the first time this has been available to buy through retail stores, it was previously available through a promotion in The Guardian newspaper. And to be honest, as you can pick these up on eBay for less than a £1, I'm left asking myself why anyone would want to spend £15 buying a DVD with very little in the way of quality added material.

Fans of Leigh will want to add this to their collection, but anyone else should think hard before parting with their money. It's a shame, considering how long this has taken to make its way onto DVD, that more thought didn't go into the extras.

Darren Rea

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