Meantime is directed by Mike Leigh and stars Phil Daniels, Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Pam Ferris, and Alfred Molina (among others). Leigh is film-maker known for his unique approach to movies. Rather than writing a script and getting actors to perform lines, he creates characters and a basic storyline, and works with the actors/actresses to create a script. Once the actors have been told about who their characters are, Leigh will put them in a room together and let them improvise lines. This gives each of his movies very natural and realistic dialogue, at the expense of a tight story or obvious character arcs.
In Meantime, the story centres on a family in Thatcherite Britain living in high-rises in East London. The father and two sons are all unemployed, and rely on the dole to eat/smoke/drink. The mother’s sister is faring better, living in a middle-class suburb, and this clash of cultures forms the basis for the film’s story.
Leigh’s individual style is one that very much appeals to me. It gives each of the characters a great sense of ‘self’ that few movies have. When films were first made, the main experience people had of acting was the theatre, where lines are delivered as much to the audience as the co-stars. This type of delivery can still be seen in most modern movies. Where ‘exposition’ will mean characters say things people would never really say in real life. For example in last week’s Lost the camera pans over a huge temple before cutting to Hurley who says: “So this is the temple.”
In Meantime characters will often be so involved in their own worlds, that they aren’t actually listening to what the other person is saying, or don’t quite get it. How many times have you been in a conversation where your mind is elsewhere, or you kind of half answer a question? The other thing you get is the sense of conversing to fill the awkward silence that often fills the air between two people. So that dialogue is not interesting because of what is being said, but because it reflects a more realistic form of conversation rarely seen in film.
All of this makes for a very unique and interesting movie, which says a lot about Britain in the early 80s. It does it by showing the impact on people’s lives without resorting to some character’s rise and fall, or other movie trope. Instead, character’s lives change little because of events: stuff happens, but its impact is left open to interpretation. Again reflecting the slow process of change and people’s general adversity to it.
Out of the five movies I’ve seen so far (including next week’s Eyes Wide Shut) Meantime is definitely my favourite. It’s a movie that could only be made by its director, and as a result has a realism and truth you rarely see portrayed on screen.