Before Naked, Secrets and Lies, and Topsy Turvy, Mike Leigh made some rawer, made-for television features, including 1984’s Meantime, notable for, among other things, the film debuts of Tim Roth and Gary Oldman:
Oldman, as might be evident from this image, plays a skinhead, Coxy. Roth is Colin, a mild-mannered, possibly slightly mentally deficient aimless son in a working class family. Like all Leigh films, Meantime deals with poverty issues in England. Leigh has some truly great set pieces, like this wrecking ball taking down a building as Coxy and Colin’s brother Mark (Phil Daniels) revel in it. This is a great part of Leigh’s films – the vignette feeling and here (as opposed to, say, Another Year) the spontaneity and aimlessness of youth.
Also like a lot of Leigh’s films, Meantime is expertly blocked. My favorite moment features a static camera (as a whole lot of the film does) looking down a hallway. Colin is in the bathroom off to the left, and his family constantly walks up and down, in and out of the hall, yelling at him to get out. It’s constant motion – verging on physical comedy in the rapid-fire action. But above all, it’s well orchestrated and very believable in imitating and emphasizing the claustrophobia of four people living together in a tiny house:
Meantime maybe Leigh’s closest film to Naked. There’s a fantastic monologue that, though it doesn’t match the audacity and power of David Thewlis’s in the latter film, is still pretty damn funny. There is also plenty about the class divide, echoing the alternating stories in Naked. Colin and Mark’s aunt Barbara (Marion Bailey) is well-off, and that’s demonstrated simply in the mise-en-scene, which is quite at odds with that of the brothers’ house:
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Leigh film if the upper class didn’t have problems of their own. Even the relatively soft light and white walls can’t undo a fight between Barbara and her husband John (yep, that’s Alfred Molina):
Maybe because it’s made for TV, Meantime features a ton of close-ups. Here’s a great one towards the end – and a nice use of the 4×3 frame as Colin’s father yells at him in a climactic moment: