“My natural instinct,” Leigh has said, “is to see society as society, but really as a society that works because of the nature of the individuality of individuals. I can’t look at a crowd without seeing a thousand individuals. What’s fascinating to me is that each of us is different. So in each of my films, each of the characters, large or small, is properly and organically and thoroughly, in a three-dimensional way, at the centre of his or her universe.”
Throughout his career, Leigh has found it difficult to persuade producers to support his big-screen projects, given that he eschewed carefully-polished screenplays, preferring to work with his favourite actors to develop a film and the ideas within it. Unlike a majority of socially-committed filmmakers, Mike Leigh does not allow his work to become didactic or doctrinaire. His characters gradually emerge from their circumstances, as a bust does from the sculptor’s bronze. Furthermore, actors like Ruth Sheen, Imelda Staunton, Jim Broadbent, and Lesley Manville have contributed immeasurably to Leigh’s world, full as it is of laughter and tears, recrimination and forgiveness.
Only in 1988, in his mid-forties, did he become recognised beyond Britain as a true auteur, with High Hopes. Since then, his nine feature films have captured awards and discerning audiences around the world, with five of the titles earning Oscar nominations, and Vera Drake winning the Golden Lion in Venice and Secrets & Lies the Palme d’Or in Cannes.
Before the beginning of the festival Mike Leigh was excited to take up his work as president of the International Jury at the Berlinale 2012. “My fellow-jurors and I will savour the work of our peers with great gusto, and I look forward to the experience with glee.”