Tom and Gerri (ha ha) live happily in a comfortable London house and keep an allotment. They have a morose son, Joe, who doesn’t have a girlfriend. Gerri’s colleague Mary doesn’t have a boyfriend. Tom’s old mate Ken is even more desperate than Mary. Mary and Ken drink too much. She’s still a looker, but he’s gone to seed and wolfs down his food. Ken likes Mary who likes Joe. Nothing happens.
Mike Leigh’s best films have a strong story, clear insight and emotional charge. His worst go nowhere and his actors, struggling to reveal their innermost selves in banal circumstances, get stuck in actory tics and parody. Here they have it all to do in small talk over food or a cup of tea.
It takes a death to spark real life and drama. When Tom’s sister-in-law dies, we meet his brother Ronnie. He’s working class, has never left Hull, and rarely speaks more than a word at a time. But silent stoical Ronnie and lonely chatty Mary recognize something in each other. It’s hardly a story, and certainly not the love story that Mary clamours for. But, in the end, quiet realization makes this sometimes indulgent film very real and affecting.