Mike Leigh

Brenda Blethyn turns TV detective in Vera

Brenda Blethyn, everybody's favourite on-screen mother, hits the TV detective beat next month. But first, she's got one or two surprising confessions of her own.

Ecstasy, Hampstead Theatre, London

Mike Leigh has broken the habit of a lifetime and returned to direct one of his stage plays for the second time. You can see why he has been reluctant hitherto. Given the improvisatory techniques and the exhaustive research into character that goes into the creation of a Mike Leigh piece, the original actors might be said to "own" the material in a deeper sense than is normally meant by the term. How could you hope to re-create in rehearsal that intimate sense of mutual discovery with actors coming to the finished product cold?

Claire Skinner: From washing up to the West End

Claire Skinner's apprenticeship under Mike Leigh made her a natural choice for the semi-improvised TV hit Outnumbered. Now she's returning to her first love – theatre. Claire Allfree meets her

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Simon Channing Williams: Film producer who worked with Mike Leigh for

Simon Channing Williams played a major part in the British film industry by producing all the films directed by Mike Leigh for the past 20 years. In 1988 he and Leigh formed Thin Man Films, the company that funded and made possible Leigh's projects, including the multi-Oscar nominated Secrets and Lies (1996) and the equally acclaimed Vera Drake (2004). Channing Williams also produced the controversial story of a whistleblower, The Constant Gardener (2005), directed by Fernando Meirelles, which won Rachel Weisz a supporting actress Oscar for her portrayal of an activist whose uncovering of corporate corruption – the testing of drugs on Africans by pharmaceutical companies – leads to her murder.

Read all about it: Tales from the bright side of life

Recession needn't mean depression – in fact, the first weeks of 2009 brimmed with heart-warming, gloom-busting stories. John Walsh unearths accounts of serendipity, misfortune overcome and downright silliness that you may have missed