Mike Leigh's Hard Labour is a glum look at lower-class British life in 1973. Leigh pulls no punches as it realistically explores the sexism and classism of the time and place, but, as usual, the filmmaker is more concerned with complex human drama than with any sort of didacticism. While Mrs. Thornley (Liz Smith), the lead character, is a sympathetic figure, her tormentors are also shown to be fully human with disappointments and troubles of their own. There is, for the most part, no black and white in Leigh's films -- just flawed individuals trying to navigate the social and economic land mines of their downtrodden existence. They often unwittingly add to their own misery, as when Mrs. Thornley chooses to blame her overwhelming domestic problems on herself, begging a priest to help her find forgiveness. The reaction of this relatively minor character to Mrs. Thornley's plight is indicative of Leigh's bracingly intricate approach to his subject matter. This type of exacting character study demands strong performances from the cast, and Leigh gets them. Smith is excellent as the quietly put-upon wife, while (Clifford Kershaw) is her equal as the noisily unhappy husband. The high level of the performance extends to the smallest roles in the film, and Ben Kingsley makes a noteworthy appearance as a Pakistani taxi driver, providing one of this profoundly sad film's sweeter moments.
by Josh Ralske review