Life Is Sweet (film): Wikis


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Life is Sweet
Directed by Mike Leigh
Produced by Simon Channing-Williams
Written by Mike Leigh
Starring Alison Steadman
Jim Broadbent
Claire Skinner
Jane Horrocks
Timothy Spall
Music by Rachel Portman
Cinematography Dick Pope
Editing by Jon Gregory
Distributed by Forum Distribution
Release date(s) September 11, 1991 (USA)
March 22, 1991 (UK)
Running time 103 min.
Country UK
Language English
Gross revenue US$1,516,414 (USA)[1]
Preceded by High Hopes
Followed by A Sense of History

Life Is Sweet is a 1991 British film directed by Mike Leigh, starring Jim Broadbent, Alison Steadman, Claire Skinner, Jane Horrocks and Timothy Spall. Leigh's third cinematic film, it was his most commercially successful title at the time of its original release.[1] The essentially comic story follows the fortunes of a lower-middle-class North London family over a few weeks in one summer.



Andy, a professional cook, buys a dilapidated fast-food van from his disreputable friend Patsy (Stephen Rea). He plans to clean it, restore and put it into service. His wife Wendy is highly sceptical about the project. His daughters Natalie and Nicola have quite different attitudes; Natalie thinks it's a good idea if it'll keep her father happy, whereas Nicola contemptuously dismisses Andy as a "Capitalist!" Late at night, Nicola binges unhappily on chocolate and snacks, then forces herself to vomit. Her sister, awake in the next room, overhears this.

Aubrey, a friend of the family, is opening a restaurant named The Regret Rien. Wendy accepts a part-time job as waitress in the restaurant, but her and Andy's confidence in the scheme is undermined by Aubrey's unorthodox approach to cuisine; his menu includes such dishes as Saveloy on a bed of Lychees, Liver in Lager and Pork Cyst.

Nicola's lover (unnamed, played by David Thewlis) comes to the family home to have sex with her while the others are out. It appears that Nicola can only be aroused by having her lover lick chocolate spread off her chest, which he rather reluctantly agrees to. He ultimately loses patience with her, accusing her of being "a bit vacant" and of being incapable of having an adult conversation. He leaves her, and her emotional state grows worse.

The opening night of The Regret Rien is a disaster. Aubrey forgot to advertise the opening of the restaurant, with the result that no customers turn up. Aubrey gets hopelessly drunk, tells Wendy that he fancies her, starts taking his clothes off and passes out. Wendy is forced to deal not only with him but with his glum, passive and infatuated sous-chef, Paula (Moya Brady).

Andy and Patsy go to the pub and get drunk. Andy ends up slumbering inside the rotting fast-food van in his driveway. Wendy returns home from the disastrous opening night of Aubrey's restaurant to find him there, and for the first time she loses her temper with the whole family.

Nicola becomes more and more bitter and aggressive, and Wendy finally confronts her. In the course of a long conversation, Wendy makes it clear to Nicola that she is deeply worried about her. It emerges that during an earlier phase of Nicola's anorexia, she almost starved to death. Ashamed and angry, Nicola is convinced that Wendy and the rest of the family must hate her, but Wendy angrily responds "We don't hate you! We bloody love you, you stupid girl!" and leaves the room, upset. Nicola's armor is shattered and she breaks down.

Meanwhile, Andy is seen running his kitchen at work with energy and authority. He slips on a spoon and breaks his ankle. Wendy receives the news with a characteristic mixture of sympathy and amusement. She drives him home from the hospital. Wendy goes back to Nicola's room, and mother and daughter are reconciled.

The film ends with Natalie and Nicola sitting peacefully in the back garden. Natalie observes that Nicola must own up to her parents about her bulimia. She then asks Nicola "D'you want some money?" and Nicola accepts gratefully, the first time in the film where she has accepted an offer of help.


  • Alison Steadman as Wendy. She works in a baby clothing shop and teaches a dance class to young children. She is the emotional core of the family and talks continually, keeping up an amused running commentary on everything around her, but concerned about the welfare of her family, especially her troubled daughter Nicola. She loves her husband, but recognises that he lacks entrepreneurial spirit; she describes him as having "two speeds, slow and stop".
  • Jim Broadbent as Andy, Wendy's husband and a professional head cook in an industrial kitchen. Andy is presented as a loving but slightly ineffectual husband and father, fond of tinkering in his shed and buying broken things which he plans to get around to fixing at some unspecified future date. By contrast, the scenes depicting Andy at work show him as a highly competent executive chef.
  • Claire Skinner as Andy and Wendy's daughter Natalie, a plumber who spends her leisure time playing snooker and drinking with her male workmates. She never shows any interest in dating or romance, but reads travel brochures about the USA in her room at night. Natalie is described by her mother as "happy", but she is the only principal character in the film who never smiles.
  • Jane Horrocks as Nicola, Natalie's twin sister. Nicola is unemployed, extremely thin, smokes continually, eats her meals separately from the others and criticises the behaviour of everyone around her, largely on the grounds of a superficial kind of political correctness. Her favourite expression is "Bollocks!" It is revealed early on that Nicola is bulimic; she keeps a locked suitcase full of snacks and sweets under her bed, and late at night she binges on them and then makes herself vomit.
  • Timothy Spall as Aubrey, an old friend of the family. Aubrey is nervous, fidgety and has poor impulse control, often randomly destroying nearby objects; the other way he vents his tensions is by playing the drums very badly. He considers himself a culinary "genius", but his cooking is eccentric to the point of inedible, and he lacks many basic social skills; early on in the film he gives a pineapple to Wendy on the grounds that he suspects it to be "on the turn". He appears to harbour unrequited lusts for both Wendy and Nicola.


The film was a co-production between British Screen Productions, Channel Four Films and Thin Man Films, a production company created by Mike Leigh and producer Simon Channing-Williams.[2] This was the first release by Thin Man, who have produced all Leigh's films since Life Is Sweet.[3]

The script was developed by Leigh and the cast, employing his established practice of collectively improvising and rehearsing for several weeks prior to actual shooting. For example, Aubrey's bizarre recipes were devised by Leigh and Timothy Spall over the course of a single evening, and then checked for plausibility with a professional chef, who advised them about which ones were technically impossible to prepare; all the ones that appear in the film are, as Leigh put it, "all feasible, gross as it sounds."[4]

David Thewlis, who played Nicola's anonymous lover, was disappointed at being given such a small role. Leigh promised him that the next time he considered Thewlis for a role in a film, "he'd be given a fair slice of the pie."[5] Sure enough, Thewlis' next role in a Leigh film was his award-winning performance as the lead character Johnny in Naked.[6]

The film was shot entirely on location in Enfield, Middlesex, U.K..[7]

Critical reception

The film received mostly favourable reviews. The Guardian film reviewer awarded the film seven stars out of a possible ten.[8] Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times commenting that in spite of the constraints of independent film production, the film was "as funny, spontaneous and free as if it had been made on a lark by a millionaire".[9] Hal Hinson of the Washington Post called the film "sublime" and "gently brilliant".[10] Desson Thompson of the same paper agreed, praising Leigh for discovering "the tragic beauty of the mundane".[11]

Cultural references

Aubrey's restaurant The Regret Rien is named after the 1956 song Non, je ne regrette rien by Charles Dumont and Michel Vaucaire, made famous by French singer Edith Piaf.

Andy often speaks in comic voices, at one point uttering the out-of-context line "He's fallen in the water!". This was the catchphrase of Little Jim, a recurring character from the 1950s BBC radio comedy programme The Goon Show.[12]

Patsy is a supporter of Tottenham Hotspur football club. According to Leigh this was a source of some discomfort to Stephen Rea who played the character, since Rea is a supporter of the team's long-term rivals Arsenal.[13]

Awards and nominations


The Region 2 DVD of Life Is Sweet was released on 11 February 2002.

External links


  1. ^ a b Life Is Sweet (1991) - Box office / business
  2. ^ Raphael, Amy (2008). Mike Leigh on Mike Leigh. London: Faber & Faber. p. 384. ISBN 978-0-571-20469-4.  
  3. ^ Raphael, p. 207
  4. ^ Raphael, p. 217
  5. ^ Raphael, p. 211
  6. ^ Naked (1993) - Awards
  7. ^ Raphael, p. 209
  8. ^ Life Is Sweet | Film |
  9. ^ Life Is Sweet :: :: Reviews
  10. ^ ‘Life Is Sweet’ (R)
  11. ^ ‘Life Is Sweet’ (R)
  12. ^ The Goon Show Site - Goons Characters
  13. ^ Raphael, p. 213
  14. ^ Life Is Sweet (1991) - Awards

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