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Grown-Ups (1980)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Grown-Ups (1980)
For Playhouse, BBC tx. 28/11/1980
95 mins, colour
DirectorMike Leigh
ProducerLouis Marks
Devised byMike Leigh
PhotographyRemi Adefarasin

Cast: Philip Davis (Dick); Lesley Manville (Mandy); Brenda Blethyn (Gloria); Janine Duvitski (Sharon); Lindsay Duncan (Christine Butcher); Sam Kelly (Ralph Butcher)

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A young couple in Canterbury dream of moving into a council house, but their dream is threatened by their relationship with the wife's unmarried sister and the next-door neighbour, their former teacher.

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Made for the BBC's Playhouse strand, Mike Leigh's Grown-Ups (tx. 28/11/1980) is an essay on parallels, between the working-class Dick (Phil Davis) and Mandy (Lesley Manville) and their middle-class neighbours the Butchers. Scenes alternate between the couples, drawing subtle comparisons. As Dick, relaxes on the sofa after work, he talks frankly to his wife. Meanwhile, Ralph (also on the sofa) and Christine blandly discuss tea, then frostily debate the Loch Ness monster. Later Dick and Mandy's closeness in bed is contrasted with the Butchers' frigid body language.

These parallels subvert our initial impressions of the characters: at the start, Dick and Mandy appear brash, uneducated and rude, while the Butchers are well-educated, refined and articulate. But Dick and Mandy's warm and fluid conversation makes us realise the extent of the Butchers' emotionally barren marriage.

Significantly, the council houses end with Dick and Mandy's and the privately-owned ones begin with the Butchers'. The Butchers teach at the school Dick and Mandy attended, and both couples are childless. All this points to the blurring of class boundaries and to the universality of everyday problems.

The most memorable scene is one in which the troubled Gloria (Brenda Blethyn) locks herself in the Butchers' bathroom and then clings to the banister. Like, say, the birthday party scene in High Hopes (1988), the scene is testament to Leigh's expertise in blending pathos with farce. Gloria's desperation and loneliness in her regression into a hysterical, childlike state are nowhere more acute, Dick and Mandy's exasperation with Gloria reaches new heights, and Ralph and Christine's different approaches to the situation - Christine (Lindsay Duncan) mothers Gloria while Ralph (Sam Kelly) watches through the gaps in the banisters - illustrate the emotional gulf between them.

However, the outrageousness of a sobbing, grown woman being held down by other 'grown ups' peppers the scene with black comedy. Leigh demonstrates that where there is pain there is an element of laughter, and where there is empathy there is also cynicism.

Shalini Chanda

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Video Clips
1. Meeting the Butchers (2:09)
2. What tea? (4:24)
3. Bed time (2:21)
4. Gloria at the Butchers' (4:11)
Mike Leigh: The Guardian Interview (1983)
Blethyn, Brenda (1946-)
Davis, Philip (1953-)
Duncan, Lindsay (1950-)
Leigh, Mike (1943-)
Mike Leigh on TV