Clare's Criterion Collection

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Review # 16 – Life Is Sweet


Spine # 659

Available on Blu-Ray & DVD

Special Features:


  • New, restored 2K digital film transfer, supervised by director of photography Dick Pope, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • New audio commentary featuring director Mike Leigh
  • Audio recording of a 1991 interview with Leigh at the National Film Theatre in London
  • Five short films written and directed by Leigh for the proposed television series Five-Minute Films, with a new audio introduction by Leigh
  • Plus: A booklet featuring a new essay by critic David SterrittNew cover by Eric Skillman

Please note that whilst I try to not give away vital plot details/scenes/developments of the film, some reviews may contain mild spoilers.


What makes for a sweet life?

Mike Leigh, the twice-nominated Academy Award British Director burst onto the big screen in the 1990’s with this, sometimes comical, look at an ordinary family in 1980’s Britain.

We have:

Dad Andy, the Chef, dreamer, someone who can never finish any job he undertakes around the house (patio, porch, guitar, take your pick).

Mum Wendy, the shop assistant, eternal optimist, children dance teacher and moonlighting waitress

Twin 1 Natalie, the “normal one”, plumber and would be world traveller

Twin 2 Nicola, the “mouthy one”, eternal layabout and bulimic

The title comes from the running topic throughout the film, food. As I’ve mentioned, Andy is a Chef and one Daughter is sadly bulimic. We also have a restaurant which, to quote Mike Leigh himself is “the most ridiculous and preposterous thing I’ve ever invented in film”. Given that the restaurant is themed (badly) on the national singing treasure of France, Édith Piaf, complete with a spelling mistake in the name you are straight away under the impression that not all will go to plan. Add into the mix the owner, Aubrey (played by the ever great Timothy Spall), a man with the most eye-catching dress sense ever finished off with Timmy Mallet glasses and you realise this cake may not be fully baked.

We watch as the family goes about the daily activities of normal life, eating, talking, laughing, fighting, drinking and working. A few of the scenes are shot either through a doorway or a window, angles that Mike Leigh likes to use and you feel that you are not intruding into their lives even though we are watching some fairly intimate moments. None more so that 2 involving Nicola.


Some of the scenes involving Jane Horrocks’ character are quite shocking. We see a young woman, in her early 20’s struggling to fit in anywhere, even her own family. We see her snarl, swear and smoke her way through the film but it is the food scenes that are the most saddest. Binge eating chocolate only to instantly throw up. Even her one friend in the world has to partake in her unhappy and complex relationship with food.

A good heart-to-heart with Mum, where, with the best of intentions, some home-truths are spelt out, we slowly start to see a turn in her life and a small step taken to join the other 3 in the living room. This is a place that Andy will be spending some time in, due to a spoon 🙂

The Extras that come with this disc were very helpful to me and enabled to appreciate the film more. Mike Leigh gives a very insightful interview in which he describes his influences:

For his films:

Living and dying


Growing up and growing old


Jean Renoir

Fritz Lang

Satyajit Ray

Frank Capra

Yasujirô Ozu

The work from Ealing Pictures and the British New Wave of the 60’s

French New Wave, though not Godard anymore. A wonderful quote was given during the interview:

“Even Godard until, like a lot of people, I fell out with him around the middle to late 60’s when he, you know, started to disappear up his own bum”

So that is Life Is Sweet, overall I scored this film 7 (Good) though it just missed out on making an 8 (Very Good)

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