Ever since her Oscar nomination for Phantom Thread, work has been flooding in for Lesley Manville, finally letting US audiences see the talent evident on stage, screen and TV here for decades. The actor talks to @JanetChristie2 about new film Ordinary Love with Liam Neeson, and taking the opportunities that come her way
Life has changed a lot for Lesley Manville since she was ‘discovered’ by Hollywood last year, despite being a multiple award-winning star of stage and screen in the UK. Being nominated for an Oscar for her supporting actress performance in Phantom Thread opposite Daniel Day-Lewis has seen her career take off Stateside and given her opportunities she wasn’t looking out for, but is delighted to take up.
“I was overwhelmed by the response to Phantom Thread,” she says. “I’d have been happy to have made it if nobody had ever seen it because I had 14 of the most glorious weeks of my life and career shooting it. I thought it was a stunning film – it’s the kind of film I love anyway.
Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson are note-perfect in Owen McCafferty’s profoundly moving drama
There’s nothing ordinary about this deeply moving, frequently funny and piercingly insightful drama from Belfast playwright Owen McCafferty, making his screenwriting feature debut. On the surface it’s a tale of a middle-aged couple facing up to a diagnosis of breast cancer, and a year of medical intervention. Yet beyond this immediate diagnosis is something far more rich and compelling – a story of everyday love between two people living in the shadow of grief, facing an uncertain future, both together and apart.
Directed with wit, subtlety and great emotional honesty by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn (the co-directors of 2012’s brilliantly life-affirming Good Vibrations), it’s a singular story with universal appeal – striking a very personal chord with some viewers while finding common ground with the widest possible audience. I’ve seen it three times so far, and found it more joyous, heart-breaking and ultimately uplifting with each subsequent viewing.
Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson are note-perfect as Joan and Tom, a couple living in Northern Ireland for whom gentle bickering has become a sign of affection – a way of saying “I love you” without having to use those often awkward words. At Joan’s apparent insistence, the pair have taken up walking, striding along a waterside prom to a designated tree and back – an attempt to stave off the inevitable aches and pains of ageing. “How does the Fitbit know you’re walking?” Tom asks his ever-so-slightly exasperated wife, before insisting that the exercise “allows me to have a beer” despite her health-conscious protestations to the contrary.
When Joan feels a lump in her breast, her husband tries to reassure her that it’s “nothing”, even after initial investigations raise cause for concern. “We’ll do whatever has to be done, the two of us,” says Tom, asserting that “there isn’t a moment I won’t be with you”. Yet that togetherness will be sorely tested by a process that necessarily separates patients from their loved ones, frequently leaving Tom stewing in impersonal waiting rooms while Joan undergoes examination and surgery. “I’m glad our Debbie isn’t here to go through this,” says Joan, referring to the lost daughter whose presence still feels real, highlighting divisions between the couple’s different ways of dealing (or not dealing) with the current crisis.
Anyone with experience of a similar situation will recognise the pinpoint accuracy with which Ordinary Love depicts Joan’s journey through cancer care, right down to such tiny details as the weirdly jarring snapping sound of the mechanised syringe used to take a biopsy. Equally on the money is the depiction of the petty distractions that can accompany life-changing hospital visits – the moment of panic Joan feels when she’s called for her test results just as Tom has disappeared off to the toilet; a tense exchange conducted sotto voce while queuing to pay for the car parking.
It’s that evocation of the intangible interface between the mundane and the monumental that lends Ordinary Love such universal appeal – the sense of down-to-earth characters quietly wrestling with the cosmic mysteries of life and death, love and grief, with a mixture of sorrow and laughter. Whether it’s a tragicomic graveside musing about the metaphysics of the afterlife, or an absurdist argument about three being closer to five than one on a sliding scale of probability (apparently drawn verbatim from an exchange between McCafferty and his wife Peggy), Ordinary Love brilliantly captures that strange sense of everything and nothing happening simultaneously – to everyone.
Crucially, although the narrative is bookended with images of Tom and Joan together, the emotional separation they experience during Joan’s treatment is accompanied by an unexpected bonding with others who are going through the same thing – the “Normal People” of the script’s original title. One of Debbie’s old teachers, formerly dismissed as “arrogant”, becomes a confidante, a fellow patient with whom Joan can laugh about the indignities of chemo-induced hair loss. Meanwhile Tom (who is “always Tom”) makes a waiting-room connection that proves quietly groundbreaking, causing a subtle change that cuts to the heart of the film’s wider purpose.
With cinematographer Piers McGrail and editor Nick Emerson, Leyburn and Barros D’Sa create a cinematic space that combines the intimate domestic stillness of Michael Haneke’s Amour with an almost Kubrickian sense of alienating architecture during the accelerating hospital scenes. A beautiful ambient score by David Holmes and Brian Irvine proves as quietly powerful and moving as the film itself, like a randomly generated cellular lullaby.
As for the performances, they are simply flawless, with particular plaudits to Manville, for whom awards are surely due. A wordless closeup of her face as Joan undergoes breast imaging will stay with me forever – in her eyes, we see fear, anxiety and a hint of loneliness, mixed with a strange cocktail of acceptance and defiance, and something that still manages to look like love.
The Bafta nominee has been discovered by Hollywood after 47 years as an actor. She talks about ageism, losing her anonymity and spa trips with her Mum co-stars
Lesley Manville was at the bus stop the other day when the comedian Simon Amstell spotted her and came up for a chat. He wanted to know what she was doing there. Manville affects bewilderment. “I said: ‘Well, why? I’m going to get the bus.’ He said: ‘I don’t imagine you getting the bus.’” He could see her on a bus, but not actually waiting for it, perhaps because she seems both grounded and grand. “I said: ‘I love a bus. I don’t want my life to be about taking taxis.’”
But buses are becoming trickier for Manville. It’s not just the “oomska oomska oomska” of tinny music emitted by other people’s headphones, which “irritates the fuck out of her” and is turning the public space into a private entertainment zone and spoiling the opportunity for earwigging. She can also hear her fellow passengers whispering: “It’s her off Mum! It’s her off Mum!”
The BBC Two sitcom was nominated in four categories at the TV Baftas on Sunday, one of which was Manville for female performance in a comedy, while Mum is about to return for its third and final series. No wonder Manville’s quietly devastating performance as Cathy, a recently widowed mother of one who is falling in love with her late husband’s best friend, is making it hard for her to pass unnoticed. Many bus rides are now spent clocking the furtive glances and wondering whether she will have to get off before her stop.
“I’m clinging on to it,” she says – the “it” being the bus, but also the anonymity she has avidly protected during a 47-year career across stage, TV and film that has won her a reputation not as a glittering national treasure, but as “a stalwart”.
The days of this reputation are numbered. Last year, she was nominated for an Oscar for her potently austere portrayal of Cyril Woodcock, the sister of Daniel Day-Lewis’s Reynolds in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread. We meet in the ballroom of the Langham hotel in London as she is preparing to fly to Canada to shoot Let Him Go with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. Hollywood has discovered her, while the acclaim for Mum and Phantom Thread, on the heels of an Olivier award for Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts in 2014, have turned her into a sort of poster girl for the older female actor. Continue reading →
Otherwise working in period films is all pros and no cons, says Lesley Manville
She loves clothes and costume dramas and so Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (2017), set in the haute couture world of London in 1954, was a perfect fit. Lesley Manville plays Cyril Woodcock, sister to Daniel Day-Lewis’ gifted but obsessive couturier, Reynolds Woodcock
Talking about the preparation for her role, Lesley says over the phone from London, “I knew I was going to do the film about seven months before we started filming so I had lots of time to research the period of the film, the 50s, the history of fashion, the world of fashion leading up to that. I had time to think about the character and how I might play her. I had lots of sessions and meetings with Paul Thomas Anderson, I had a few with Daniel Day Lewis, lots of costume fittings with Mark Bridges. You put all the research, the work and the preparation in and then you start to shoot the film. That is when everybody has to try and find a way to create something that is going to work and going to be interesting.”
Insisting there aren’t any cons to working in a period film, the 63-year-old says, “I love costume dramas because you put on these clothes and when you go to the set everything is in the right period which helps you feel very much in that world. I find it all a great help and it is such a beautiful period as well. Women dressed so beautifully at that time in history. Everything about it was helpful. Sometimes your corset is a bit tight! (laughs) Apart from that it is all pros, no cons.” [ . . . ]
The acclaimed director answers a wide range of your questions about creative freedom, James Bond, and everything Rada didn’t teach him
Courtesy of THE GUARDIAN
Mike Leigh sits before me, in his Soho office, a man without regrets – certainly with regard to his work, but probably in most aspects of his life, one suspects. If this doesn’t make him unique in the film industry, then he’s certainly in a tiny minority. The 75-year-old British director has made 20-odd films – from his TV work in the 1970s up to his latest release, Peterloo, perhaps his most ambitious and certainly his most expensive project yet – and he has never once had his arm twisted to compromise on his creative vision. He chooses the subject, handpicks the actors and the version we see on the screen is exactly the one that Leigh intended.
“I’m open to people who are happy for me to do what I do,” he explains. “I’m not open to anybody who tries to tell me what to do. I have on many occasions walked away from a project where there’s been even the suggestion that, ‘Well, we’ll back the film so long as there’s an American star in it.’ Walk away.”
Really, he’d walk away? “Of course,” Leigh replies, clearly considering the question either idiotic or mad. “And I have done on a number of occasions. It’s like a novelist being told what the novel should have in it. Or a painter being told, ‘It must include a lighthouse.’ And that’s the polite version.”
So Leigh is no people-pleaser, and yet, of course, at the same time he has become one of our best loved film-makers. He was raised in Salford and when he started making plays, and then films, he always imagined he would focus on contemporary issues. A particular inspiration was Jack Clayton’s 1959 film Room at the Top, a story of love and class set in a Yorkshire mill town, which came out when Leigh was 16 [ . . . ]