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Bleak Moments

Bleak Moments
File:Bleak Moments.jpg
Directed by Mike Leigh
Produced by Les Blair
  • Anne Raitt
  • Sarah Stephenson
  • Eric Allan
  • Joolia Cappleman
  • Mike Bradwell
Release dates
Running time
111 minutes
Budget £18,500[2]

Bleak Moments is a 1971 British film, the first film of Mike Leigh. It began as a 75-minute stage play in March 1970 at the Open Space Theatre. Leigh and Les Blair had formed their own company, Autumn Productions, and Leigh wanted to make a film of Bleak Moments. He was able to when Albert Finney and Michael Medwin's Memorial Films, who had recently made If.... and were about to produce Gumshoe, "delivered the main financial backing, as well as unused spare bits of film rolls." [3]


Bleak Moments looks at the 'tortured, semi-articulated anguish' in suburban West Norwood, between Sylvia, and her retarded sister Hilda; Sylvia's friend at work, Pat; a teacher, Peter, Sylvia's reticent, prospective boy-friend; and Norman, a 'gormless hippie'.


  • Anne Raitt as Sylvia
  • Sarah Stephenson as Sylvia's sister
  • Eric Allan as a teacher
  • Joolia Cappleman as Pat
  • Mike Bradwell as Norman
  • Donald Sumpter as Norman's friend
  • Liz Smith as Pat's mother


The critic Michael Coveney (writing in 1996) wrote that "Even though the sound quality is poor and the pace a little on the leisurely side - there is tonal assurance and technical finesse in the presentation of the marvellous performances that proclaims both originality and talent." Sylvia is heard playing Chopin's E-flat Nocturne over the opening credits. The general inability to express inner feelings reinforces a mood of bleak, Slavic despair..[there is a] Chekhovian atmosphere, unrelieved by the sort of cathartic climax that characterises most of Leigh's subsequent work." And Coveney praised Leigh's "poetic sensitivity to what G.K.Chesterton called 'the significance of the unexamined life.' Even the exterior shots have a plaintive, insistent quality, with beautifully composed views of pebbledash houses and garages, of clear roads and tall trees, around West Norwood and Tulse Hill. " [4] John Coleman in New Statesman called it, "the most remarkable début by a British director, working on an absurdly low budget and with unknown actors, that I have ever seen." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun Times : "Bleak Moments is a masterpiece, plain and simple... its greatness is not just in the direction or subject, but in the complete singularity of the performances." Tony Garnett, the innovative and radical producer, admired the stage performance and was impressed with the subsequent film. He 'spotted Leigh's potential immediately' and his support would prove invaluable. Garnett was providing several films a year for the BBC, and Garnett would produce Leigh's next project, Hard Labour, for BBC Television in 1973.


  1. ^ Bradwell, Mike (8 July 2010). The Reluctant Escapologist: Adventures in Alternative Theatre. Nick Hern Books. p. 90. ISBN 9781854595386. 
  2. ^ Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, Harrap, 1985 p 225
  3. ^ Michael Coveney, p.85
  4. ^ Coveney, p.86

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