Saturday, 29 March 2014

Leigh's Ladies : Ruth Sheen

Ruth Sheen

Number of filmed Leigh projects: Five from 1988 to the present day.

From 1988's High Hopes to 2010's Another Year; she may have aged, but that smile remains the same! And with good reason, given how her two characters in each film - Shirley and Gerri - are both two strong and positive women in a solid relationship, blessed with a joie de vivre and green fingers.

Ruth Sheen's one of my favourite character actresses and a lot of that is down to her work with Mike Leigh. Perhaps capitalising on the happiness, positivity and above all, the sheer strength she seems to embody, Leigh has cast her largely to that type in High Hopes, Secrets and Lies (a cameo as 'laughing woman' which says it all really!) All or Nothing, Vera Drake and Another Year

In Vera Drake she's the titular role's partner, a bespectacled no nonsense madam who charges for her role in backstreet abortions and deals on the black market. It's another strong performance, but it's not one you could really call likeable, which makes it unique amongst her other Leigh roles.

I especially like the strength she brings to her character in All or Nothing including her other talent; singing. The legend has it that, as research, Leigh and Sheen would attend karaoke night once it was decided that her character would perform in such things on evening out with the girls - which was shown in the film. Sheen was so good in this preparation that she won the competition! 

But it's the role of Shirley in High Hopes that impresses me the most, creating a wonderfully believable relationship with her co-star Phil Davis as an irreverent left wing couple. She's feisty and funny as witnessed in her rebuttal of a leery come on from Martin, Davis' brother in law, played by Philip Jackson;

Martin: "Have you ever done any modelling?" 
Shirley: "No. I've done some yodelling"
*cue Martin attempting to yodel* 
Shirley: "I can see you haven't"

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