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Comical High Hopes can't support anti-Thatcher diatribe


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Written and directed by Mike Leigh.

Starring Philip Davis, Ruth Sheen,

and Edna Dore.

At the Nickelodeon Theater.


BENEATH ITS SHARP POLITICAL satire of the nouveau riches lurks a warm and saddened story of lost idealism in High Hopes, a British film about present-day England under Margaret Thatcher. In the film, writer and director Mike Leigh straddles the social strata with seven fully developed characters, inextricably tying the varied range of character's aspirations and ideals to class structure.

Much of the film focuses on Cyril (Philip Davis), a husky intellectual who drives a delivery motorcycle by day and philosophizes about Marxism by night. The movie seems to support Cyril's theory about the inverse relationship of a person's wealth to his worth with its one-dimensional portrait of the nouveau riches. The wealthy characters lead petty but seemingly content lives, but Cyril remains extremely bitter and cynical.

Cyril's one salvation is his relationship of ten years with his live-in partner Shirley (Ruth Sheen), a tall woman whose oddly defined facial features give her a homey yet intriguing appearance. In many ways, Shirley's wits are a perfect match to Cyril's. All of her plants, which seem to overtake the space of their tiny flat, are named after political figures -- she has a spiny cactus affectionately named "Thatcher." The couple's one dispute stems from Shirley's desire to have a baby, but their relationship remains strong, even superseding the monetary hardships they endure.

On the opposite side of the social spectrum is a yuppie couple, Laetitia (Leslie Manville) and Rupert (David Bamber). The couple's taut and impeccably dressed bodies and perfectly pink flesh give them a cartoonish quality -- their worst hardship is being late for the evening's opera. The two flutter about as they shop and go to the opera, only to come home for the evening's round of sex which involves a cute stuffed animal nicknamed "Mr. Sausage." This simple, stylized portrait of the upper class, while hilarious, works against the political message of the movie. The audience has a tough time believing that such meaningless people control England and suppress the lower and working classes.

Director Leigh attempts to convey the sad plight of the elderly through the character of Mrs. Bender (Edna Dore). Introduced with a third couple, Dore plays an elderly woman who is often shut out from the world; her performance, dotted with comical elements, superbly lives up to the role. But even with Leigh's worthy efforts, the film sometimes lectures in an overly pedantic manner about the hopeless situations of the poor and elderly in England.

Despite its often heavy-handed tone, High Hopes succeeds as a comical and entertaining film. One of its greatest qualities is the portrayal of Cyril and Shirley's relationship. Leigh's passive camera allows the audience insight into a partnership that is believable and is not just the glossed over picture common to many current films. The level of warmth between the couple is matched by the hilarity of the caricature presented in the nouveau riches partnership. It is this simplicity in granting specific social characterizations that makes the film entertaining but fails to support its social message of anti-Thatcherism.