'Life Is Sweet' (1991) at Rooftop Film Club (Queen Of Hoxton, 3 July '12) // Words: Alison Potter
Not letting the rubbish summer drizzle rain on their parade, the Rooftop Film Club hosted a special screening of Mike Leigh’s celebrated 'Life Is Sweet', chosen by Lauren Laverne, the evening’s host. As the ‘AMEX Entertainment Insider’, Laverne will be getting a backstage look at a range of London-centric film, music and food events supported by the American Express Preferred Seating programme line-up, kicking off with this event.
As well choosing the evening’s entertainment, Lauren interviewed British acting legend and star of 'Life Is Sweet', Alison Steadman, who puts in a phenomenal performance in the film as the matriarch of a working-class North London family. Alison’s character Wendy is married to useless chef Andy (Jim Broadbent) and together they have two grown-up daughters Nicola and Natalie, played by Jane Horrocks and Claire Skinner respectively.
The film focuses on their struggles as a working class family, and at the heart of the film is the notion that nothing turns out the way we would predict, with Wendy’s cute twin daughters turning into a tomboyish plumber and a jobless chain-smoker with an eating disorder. Broadbent puts in a typically loveable performance as her bumbling and ineffectual husband, alongside an excellent supporting cast including Stephen Rea, David Thewlis and an outrageous and socially-inept Timothy Spall as family friend Aubrey.
Despite an outdoor cinema in a storm not really being the best location for a Q&A and open-air film screening, (at one point Alison wryly declared: “The wonderful British weather!”), it was great to hear the actress speaking about her career to date and what is was like to shoot the critically-acclaimed film over two decades ago.
Alison revealed that before they even started filming in the house in Enfield, she and Jim were consulted in the decorating of the house (in terms of their characters) and by the end of shooting they “felt like a real family, it felt like our house.”
Although Mike Leigh’s improvisational method of filming is well known, Alison elaborated on the process which she called “one of the most exciting and fulfilling ways of working”, whilst also hitting out at those who disapprove of Leigh’s film-making methods.
The actress, who was previously married to the British director, described his lengthy process of filming, explaining how he individually worked with each actor in secrecy to develop the characters. He then devised the scenes to create a loose situational script, finally assembling the cast and carefully directing the action and dialogue.
As well as grilling Alison about her career highlights and the film, Lauren questioned the actress about the chance of a 'Gavin and Stacey' reunion (Alison’s reply – “I wish”) and asked a surprised Alison if she was aware that 'Life Is Sweet' was one of the main inspirations behind Edgar Wright’s 'Shaun Of The Dead' (apparently he asked himself what would happen if zombies landed in a Mike Leigh film?!).
The event was incredibly enjoyable, despite the disappointing summer weather, and hopefully it is a precursor of things to come from American Express, who have handpicked a great selection of events. Find more at facebook.com/AmericanExpressUK.
For more info on the Rooftop Film Club, go to rooftopfilmclub.com.