A film by Mike Leigh. It's a made-for-BBC work that immediately impresses the idea that not all network movies are terrible or perhaps they're just terrible in America. About eight projects in, Mike Leigh had already made plenty of BBC films by 1984. The only earlier film of his that I've seen is Nuts in May, which is light-hearted comparatively, and only on the basis of seeing these two early films, I would guess that, if not the first, Meantime sets the tone and structure of his later, more well-known works (compare with Happy Go Lucky and All or Nothing). Meantime is all lower class British families with pregnant pauses and the barest of incidental sound.
A great aspect of this film shows in its ease in demonstrating two levels of interpretation simultaneously as in such masterpieces as the Terminator series, although in this case they sometimes meld together. The interactions between the characters as people stand out first with a few subtle turns in conversation and inserted drama to hint at symbolic roles that the characters fill. From the declaration of "OUR pen" by Mark in the dole office, to the holy-radiant superintendent of the project housing complex, and finally the hammered hinting expressed in the hiring and ramifications of Colin's "job", you get quickly on the first viewing that something else is said.
This film also contains the second film appearances (according to imdb) of three acting veterans: Tim Roth as the shy and probably mentally-challenged Colin, Gary Oldman as the falsely-machismoed and mentally-diminished skinhead Coxy, and Alfred Molina playing, as any good British actor should, the emotionally distant husband of Barbara, John, who I suspect will later treacherously disguise himself as an archeologist's assistant.
I imagine Mike Leigh must have specifically aimed this film at the socialist practices of English bureaucracy and class distinctions that existed in 1984, however, since I never lived in England, I can't say how well this movie nails it. If it doesn't, it's certainly not lost on me as a cry of the failure of government to accomplish anything with their social programs, and the lack of voice to repair this issue.
It's possible you may not enjoy watching a group of people beaten down by life mutter subtext at each other like frightened rodents. Who wants a clarinet and a harpsichord punctuating their every mundane thought? Maybe you only find Gary Oldman poignant when he's fueled by cocaine. Nevertheless, I promise if you give it a chance, this movie will hit you with a few memorable snapshots or scenes that'll make you chuckle one day when you reflect on your bullshit session with your friends or parents. Or maybe I'm just a middle-class wanker who can laugh at people with "real" hardship from my "picture of happiness."
-A young Gary Oldman rocking back-and-forth inside an industrial barrel, hitting the sides with a stick
-the superintendent's every sentence being scored by short chirps
-Tim Roth playing a character with specific mannerisms/not appearing in the Incredible Hulk
-Mike Leigh's rehearsed-improvisation style (see Naked by the same filmmaker)