Number of filmed Leigh projects: 3 from 2002 to the present day
I love Sally Hawkins. She was Mike's muse for three films commencing with 2002's All or Nothing in which, looking like an Amy Winehouse-clone, she played the ballsy young queen of a tower block council estate, as one of the girls in trouble in 2004's Vera Drake and lastly (for now at least) her star turn as Poppy in the life affirming Happy Go Lucky from 2008.
And now, thanks to two roles in Woody Allen films; the misfire Cassandra's Dream and, more successfully, Blue Jasmine for which she was BAFTA nominated this year, she seems to be Woody's muse.
But in a career of great highs and superb performances (Made In Dagenham, Submarine, An Education and Never Let Me Go, as well as TV roles in Persuasion and two Sarah Walters adaptations Tipping The Velvet and Fingersmith) I think it is Happy Go Lucky that is, so far, her tour de force.
Frustratingly Happy Go Lucky appears to be one of Leigh's most divisive films, if not THE most divisive - and that's really something after a film like Vera Drake which dealt squarely with the back street abortion issue! If you were to go on IMDB alone for example, you'll see a glut of message posts that completely miss the point.
There is so much wailing and ranting on there that Poppy was 'a naive dickhead' and a do gooder who only did so to appeal to her own ego. One idiot even bemoans that she's the type to 'go on marches' well heaven forbid people getting off their arse and trying to change things for good eh? Sadly it seems in this day and age the audience is made up of more Scott's than Poppy's - and that is, to paraphrase a previous Leigh title, A Great Big Shame, because I for one think the world needs more Poppy's.
There's even a few moans about the tramp scene and once again that shows just how blind some people can be to Leigh's work and his overall message; because that scene alone shows just how consistent and truthful her optimism is, and more crucially it shows just how wrong the 'naive dickhead' accusation is, because in engaging there it shows that she DOES understand the darkness in the world. Poppy is a consistent and truthfully optimistic character who, in one key scene with a homeless man disproves the critics by showing that she can engage and understand the darkness in the world. Hawkins superlative performance shows that Poppy is not at any level a character who turns a blind eye to what's wrong or to the negativity in the world, she sees it and more, she involves herself with it. And that's true goodness. It's also a scene that helps foreshadow her subsequent reaching out to her obsessive driver instructor cum stalker Scott in the last act, despite his truly horrific behaviour.
Happy Go Lucky proved that Sally Hawkins was Leigh's best find since Lesley Manville. I hope they get to work together again someday.