Film review – Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

Mike Leigh’s films, which include Secrets & Lies and Vera Drake, are often miserable affairs, exploring the difficulties of the English working-class. In Happy-Go-Lucky Leigh once again examines the working-class (and he still can’t resist having a dig at suburbanite middle-classes) but this time the driving force of the film is an endlessly enthusiastic and optimist primary school teacher named Poppy.

Whether attending flamenco classes, learning how to drive with a paranoid and racist instructor or mediating the rivalries between her sisters, Poppy is almost bursting with an infectious cheeriness. You probably would not want to sit next to her during a long flight but she is ultimately the type of person that the world is better for having. Her refusal to judge others is inspirational and when confronted later in the film with situations of serious consequences, Poppy’s empathy for others is staggering.

Actor Sally Hawkins has worked with Leigh previously and appeared in recent films The Painted Veil and Cassandra’s Dream but her performance as Poppy has assured her a long career. Poppy is a wonderful creation, making Happy-Go-Lucky one of Leigh’s best films and certainly his most enjoyable one.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 307, 2008

© Thomas Caldwell, 2008