Urban Cinefile
"Johnny, it's the usual slashed wrist shot. Keep it out of focus I want to win the foreign picture award."  -Billy Wilder
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday June 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is an irrepressibly cheerful primary school teacher who won't let anyone or anything get her down. Even when her bicycle, which she so happily rides through the busy streets of London, is stolen, her first thought is only: "I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye." Living with her flatmate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman), Poppy has a gift for making the most of life. Determined to learn to drive, she finds herself matched with Scott (Eddie Marsan), an uptight driving instructor who is everything she is not.

Review by Louise Keller:
Like her colourful name suggests, Poppy is bright and cheerful and sways every which way the wind blows. Mike Leigh's wonderfully descriptive film is just like Poppy on the surface, but its bright exterior hides a brooding, dark underside. Frivolity is used as a tool to unmask anger and Leigh's mastery has never been more apparent than in the creation of his richly layered characters. In Sally Hawkins, the writer director has found a rough diamond, a gem of an actress who appears to be all tom foolery, yet like her character Poppy, has an undefinable profundity. In one pivotal scene she wears a necklace that holds a piece of a rainbow. It's as though she wants to be that missing piece of rainbow in everyone's life. It's a career-making role for Hawkins, who effervesces like a fizzy drink, but can stop you in your tracks in the blink of an eye.

When we first meet Poppy, she is riding her bike to the local book shop. Smiling and waving, she is carefree and happy, using her extraverted nature as an ice breaker for the gruff shop owner. To no apparent avail. Even when she discovers her bike has been stolen, she shows no anger but murmurs 'Oh no, I didn't even get to say goodbye'. We quickly become entrenched into Poppy's life as she celebrates chaos. Her wardrobe is a kaleidoscope of colours - pink bra, red knickers, purple lace tights and every other colour under the rainbow. Life is one squeal of fun as she and flatmate Zoe (Alexis Zegerman) and sister Suzy (Kate O'Flynn) chat and wind down over drinks. Work seems to be fun too, playing outlandish games with the school kids in class, although we notice one little boy who takes his anger out on his classmates by hitting them. There's a gentle and soothing subtlety with which Poppy and the counsellor Tim (Samuel Roukin) deal with the child. There's a spin-off too, when Poppy and Tim hit it off and begin a relationship.

It's as though we are part of Poppy's life. There's the weekly driving lessons with uber-angry instructor Scott (Eddie Marsan), who yells, screams, berates while Poppy continues being Poppy. I love the flamenco dance lessons with Karina Fernandez's passionate, melodramatic instructor who uses the anger in her life to fuel the stamping feet and waving arms. All the characters are beautifully written and nothing feels contrived. Leigh writes about real life. The dialogue flows like a bubbling brook propelled by the energetic, flowing score that's as light as a feather but heavy with strings, woodwind and flute. The film is over before you know it and we are left with plenty to think about. There's real meaning beneath the froth and Leigh knows how to capture our interest and touch our hearts. It's funny and sad, involving and uplifting, thought provoking and totally inspiring.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If you can imagine Mike Leigh being inspired by Amelie and finding an English way of approaching the subject, you might get an approximation of Happy-Go-Lucky, even though the simile is a bit wonky. Poppy, as bright as a spring flower, tackles the world with a zest and a smile that hardly ever rub off. She maintains that, even though she knows deep down that she will often fail, there is no harm in trying to make others happy. And certainly she is herself a walking, talking piece of happy humanity, laughing at anything that crosses her path, never taking a glum face for a no. And it's not just pretence or a way of skating through life: we soon learn it's a profound philosophy.

Sally Hawkins nails the characters perfectly and that includes the underlying sense that she knows that unhappiness and pain exist. Indeed, we see her actively involved in understanding the manifestations of pain in a couple of important relationships, not the least with Eddie Marsan's driving instructor, Scottie. Marsan's casting shows Leigh's natural talent as a casting director who gets most of his work done when he signs an actor for a particular role. Ditto Alexis Zegerman as Zoe, Poppy's flatmate, a wonderfully wry character graced with genuine warmth and a sense of fun.

Pathos and drama jostle beneath the surface giggles and jives of Polly's exuberance, making it all the more effective, of course. And don't let's be surprised that Mike Leigh has made a film of sunshine and colours and laughter (with a dash of despair and trauma); all great comics are dramatic, tragic figures, so it works in reverse, too.

Email this article

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(UK, 2008)

CAST: Sally Hawkins, Alexis Zegerman, Andrea Riseborough, Samuel Roukin, Sinead Matthews, Kate O'Flynn, Sarah Niles, Eddie Marsan,

PRODUCER: Simon Channing-Williams

DIRECTOR: Mike Leigh

SCRIPT: Mike Leigh


EDITOR: Jim Clark

MUSIC: Gary Yershon


RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes



Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020