Voices

This definition of anti-Semitism has been too stretched for too long

Dear Mike Leigh: An angry filmgoer finds the director's latest movie a descent into naked misogyny

Since you won the best director prize at Cannes, your new film, Naked, has been garlanded with every kind of superlative. With the exception of Adam Mars-Jones in this newspaper, critics have hailed Naked as the 'great British film of the decade' and people are claiming you as something of a genius. Earlier this year you were even awarded an OBE, which must make you today's most famous British director since, well, Michael Winner.

FILM / Stripped of the bare necessities: Life, says Adam Mars- Jones, is anything but sweet in Mike Leigh's new film, Naked

Mike Leigh's Naked represents a strong reaction away from the lightness and charm of his last film, Life Is Sweet. It would be hard to imagine a film much sourer than Naked, but sourness is not a fault, merely a characteristic. Hollowness, now, self-indulgence, a sort of gloating emotional ugliness - those are faults.

THEATRE / A swift half with Mike Leigh

OLD FRIENDS of Stratford East's Theatre Royal who cherish the place as a relic of Victorian swagger, will have to choke back their sympathy on future visits. With its remodelled boxes and circle, acres of plush carpet, and repainted gilt and scarlet plasterwork making you blink under the new house lights, Matcham and Buckle's 1884 auditorium has reverted from a pathetic waif to a heavy swell. Magnificent.

THEATRE / Ghosts of the present: Paul Taylor on Mike Leigh's It's a Great Big Shame at Stratford East

Mike Leigh's new play has a split historical location, which is a departure for him, and you feel that his famous improvisatory methods must have been really up against it with the first half, set in 1893. Leigh is noted for sending his actors out on to the streets 'in character', but it would surely be fruitless to sally forth into the community posing as a Victorian 'trouncer', or fourth-class drayman. The 'feedback' might well be a fist in the face.

Edinburgh festival Day 16: Reviews: Double D

Unhindered by clever stage games or heavy-handed dialogue, Double D treads achingly familiar territory with charm and sensitivity. June 'Dot Cotton' Brown throws in a remarkably controlled performance as a mother slipping and failing in mid-life while her daughter struggles to come to terms with adulthood and sexuality. Mike Leigh is alive and kicking in Matthew Westwood's bitter-sweet tale, but the real comic potential of the script is realised by Charlotte Bellamy, who excels as Laurel and keeps the whole play on its toes. Not vital viewing exactly, but impressive and captivating for all that.

Show People / . . . small ball of fire: Claire Skinner

FOR Claire Skinner, the week between the end of The Importance of Being Earnest and the beginning of rehearsals for Harold Pinter's new play, Moonlight, has been her only setback this year. She went to the Canary Islands and discovered that 'it's full of lava and people lying about like handbags'. A week later, at the Almeida Theatre, the only signs of this were sunburn, freckles and blonder hair that made her look quite unlike Natalie in Life is Sweet.

FILM / Rehearsing for another life: Working on a Mike Leigh film can be dangerous for your state of mind. Sheila Johnston talks to two survivors

Most people are aware that Mike Leigh's films and plays are completely improvised, but are vague about the particulars. Leigh himself skates over the subject when the inevitable question comes up in interviews and something of a mystique has grown up around it. But David Thewlis, who won the Best Actor award for his darkly glittering performance in Leigh's new film, Naked, at Cannes this year, and Katrin Cartlidge, who takes one of the leading female roles, were keen to talk about the experience.

SHOW PEOPLE / A farewell to toe-curling: Alison Steadman

BRASSY, braying and blowsy are adjectives that Alison Steadman brings to mind. From the shrill Beverly in Abigail's Party in 1977 to the voracious, Olivier- winning Mari Hoff in The Rise and Fall of Little Voice last year, Steadman has built up a portfolio of wickedly funny characters and become one of our finest comic actresses. She has a gift for minute observation and can fasten on a detail of her character's behaviour - an over-long laugh, a nasal twang - and blow it up just enough to have your toes curling in embarrassment while your sides split.

FILM / REVIEWS: Coming in through the cracks: Bad Behaviour (15) Les Blair (UK); Jack the Bear (12) Marshall Herskovitz (US); Being at Home with Claude (18) Jean Baudin (Can); Three Ninja Kids (PG) Jon Turteltaub (US); Cop and a Half (PG) Henry Winkler (US)

The book nestling on the bedside table of Howard Spink is Christopher Lasch's doomy polemic The Culture of Narcissism, and the evidence suggests that he bought it in the belief it was a self-help manual. Spink, the villain of Les Blair's agreeably rambling comedy Bad Behaviour, is a trendy property developer - the sort of creep who keeps his office fridge stacked with Czech lager, murmurs preeningly solemn memos to a dictaphone and borrows coins for the condom machine from the distraught woman he's planning to seduce.

Cannes first for Campion: NZ and China share top festival prize, writes Sheila Johnston from Cannes

TO LOUD cheers, the two critical hits of the Cannes Film Festival received Golden Palms last night: Jane Campion's The Piano, a passionate romantic drama set in 19th-century New Zealand, and Chen Kaige's Farewell To My Concubine, a fresco of modern Chinese history seen through the eyes of two actors at the Peking Opera.

FILM / Cannes Diary: Naked launch: Sheila Johnston reports on the opening of the 1993 film festival

THE first thing we clapped eyes on at Nice airport was a large placard announcing something called 'Brainshare'. This was rather alarming: we were by no means sure that we'd like to mix grey cells with most of the characters hereabouts, but the sign proved an eerie forecast of things to come - it does seem a brainier Cannes than usual this year. It's tempting to put that down to the muted Hollywood presence - only three films in competition, although the media were tossed a crumb in the shape of a short extract from Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Last Action Hero. There are no multi-plane flypasts and a refreshing dearth of billboards along the seafront, even if the entrance to the Carlton Hotel is, as usual, straddled by a colossus. Once this was James Bond, in 1992 it was the Pink Panther and this year a dinosaur heralds Spielberg's Jurassic Park. Gilles Jacob, a festival director, did his darndest to bag this movie for the closing night gala, but no dice - we must make do instead with a cheapo Roger Corman clone, Carnosaur. In short, it's all quiet on the Cote d'Azure - the local paper led with the memorable non- headline 'A peaceful opening'. And with Louis Malle, the jury president, hinting that the Palme d'Or will not fall to a commercial picture, the prospects are good for a meaty festival.

The Sunday Preview: Cinema

Mike Leigh Season (NFT, 071-928 3232, today only). A short season of the director's work ends with the superb Meantime (6.30pm), starring Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and an incendiary Phil Daniels.

The ideal cause for cerebration: Kevin Jackson sees in the new year by crashing some memorable parties on film and in print

TO BEGIN at the most elementary level: parties are a leisure activity - which is to say, they're a way for writers to gather a group of disparate characters together without having to do any hard work on dramatic structure. Just as every soap opera from Ambridge to Albert Square relies on its local pub as the forum where the dramatis personae can be assembled without any need for their motives to be spelled out, so the party scene can be the zero degree of screenwriting. Why are all my characters crammed together in this one room / house / garden? Because they wanted to be, silly - can't you see they're all at a party?

RADIO / Too much is never enough

BIRTH and copulation and death. And in-between, really vast amounts of eating. Mike Leigh has, when you come down to it, a fairly reductionist view of human existence. When he made Too Much of a Good Thing in 1979 - his first and, as yet, his only radio play - Radio 3 refused to broadcast it, apparently worried by its sexual explicitness. It finally reached Radio 3 last Tuesday (the length of the delay being, you suspect, due to forgetfulness as much as to prudishness), bringing with it the realisation that the BBC's initial delicacy was misplaced - the shocking thing about this play is not so much the sex as the food.

RADIO / Completely off his wavelength

BITTEN more than once by Victor Lewis-Smith (R1), the BBC is acting extremely shy. An apologetic announcement precedes the comic's new shows: 'If Victor's humour is not to your taste, normal Radio 1 programming resumes in just half an hour'. In other words, by all means switch off, but come back soon. There is also a special Lewis-Smith answering machine to save the BBC duty- desk logging all the complaints. Such a build-up leaves you expecting a cross between Lenny Bruce and Bernard Manning.
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