wed 19/01/2022

Blu-ray: Bleak Moments | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Bleak Moments

Blu-ray: Bleak Moments

More than a period curio: Mike Leigh's striking debut returns, remastered

Eric Allan and Anna Raitt enjoy a romantic evening together

That Bleak Moments exists at all is largely due to Albert Finney; the BFI funded Mike Leigh’s 1971 debut to the tune of £100, as an "experimental film", and Finney’s production company supplied the rest of the £18,000 budget. Shot on location in suburban South London, Bleak Moments looks incredibly assured and confident.

Leigh complains about the quality of the soundtrack in an entertaining bonus commentary, but this pristine BFI reissue looks pristine and sounds ideally clear. Tulse Hill has rarely looked so desolate, cinematographer Bahram Manoochehri eerily accentuating the shadows. The restricted colour palette also impacts upon Anna Raitt’s Sylvia, ashen-faced and clad in blacks and browns. Leigh’s preferred modus operandi was already in place at this early stage, the film developed after months of workshops and improvisation sessions with the cast.

Bleak Moments packshotSylvia’s stance and poise initially suggest self-confidence, and there’s a funny moment when her emotionally stunted suitor Peter (Eric Allan, later to become a long-running Archers cast member) calls for her, Sylvia hiding behind the door and opening it only when she’s ready. Sylvia’s life is full of bleak moments; at home, she cares for a sister with learning difficulties and spends her days in a drab accountants’ office with Joolia Cappleman’s pathologically awkward Pat, constantly proffering Maltesers and talking about her visits to a spiritualist church.

Things seem to be looking up when Mike Bradwell’s Norman moves into Sylvia’s garage. His conversational and guitar-playing skills aren’t up to much, but he’s a more attractive figure than Peter; the film’s central act, where he and Sylvia "enjoy" an evening out at near-empty Chinese restaurant is excruciating and unbearably tense, especially when Peter accepts the invite to go back to Sylvia’s flat. Wittering on about “conversational gambits”, he miserably fails to read the room. Allan’s discomposure is painful to observe, especially when Sylvia asks him to remove his trousers. There’s no climactic showdown; instead, Peter meekly, pathetically slips away, Leigh later writing that he wanted to avoid catharsis, with scenes like this comparable to blowing up a bubble without ever bursting it.

There are moments of light relief: Peter’s twitching facial expressions are priceless, as are Norman’s songs. The relationship between Sylvia and her sister Hilda (Sarah Stephenson) is touchingly portrayed, and a glimpse of Sylvia’s defiant, assertive side in the closing seconds offers a glimmer of hope. Superb, in other words. The extras make this release self-recommending, especially the two recent interviews with the affable and articulate Leigh. He recalls that Bleak Moments was filmed during the UK’s switch to decimal currency – look out for the sign behind the counter when Sylvia visits the off-license.

@GrahamRickson

Tulse Hill has rarely looked so desolate

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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