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Mike Leigh interviewed at the University of Warwick after receiving an Honourary Doctor of Letters, "The future of British cinema is very bright"

Mike Leigh (DLitt Award)The University of Warwick's top ranked department of Film and Television Studies is internationally renowned for research into film and television. Acclaimed Film Director Mike Leigh honoured the University and its department of Film and Television Studies by accepting an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Warwick in July of this year (2015). He believes, "The future of British cinema is very bright" and he took the time to give a podcast interview immediately after receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Letters.

The pioneering British writer and director discusses his career, some of the challenges he has faced, the future of the British Film industry and gives advice to fellow graduates of the University of Warwick an you can hear the full podcast by using the buttons to the right of this page.

Warwick may have a handful of places available in clearing in Film and Television Studies in 2015. Warwick’s clearing hotline number will be 024 7653 3544 and it will open at 8am on Thursday 13th August.

The basic text of the interview also follows below:

You started in theatre and then moved on to do TV drama, at what point did you start referring to yourself as a film maker?

I saw myself as a ‘would be’ film maker from the earliest. When I trained as an actor I already knew I wanted to direct.

I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t passionate about movies and didn’t want to be a film maker. I have always regarded theatre and films in one sense as two sides of the same coin.

The advent of film 4 rejuvenated film making in this country, how did it enable you?

I made my first feature film ‘Bleak moments’ in 1971 and then didn’t make a feature film for 17 years until channel 4 started. In that period, when I couldn’t make movies, we made our films for television.

The world out there used to think that there was no such thing as British cinema. Of course there was it was alive and kicking but hiding in television.

By the time channel 4 started people knew my work, which meant by the time channel 4 started people knew my work so I could make films with their blessing and backing.

With ‘Topsy Turvy’ in 1999 and Mr Turner more recently you have diversified beyond the contemporary stories into the historical, is that because of different attitudes or because you are setting yourself different challenges?

I’m certainly setting myself different challenges. I think it is expanding the scope of possibilities. If you look at ‘Topsy Turvy’, ‘Vera Drake’ or ‘Mr Turner’ I would suggest that you can see palpable Mike Leigh characteristics even though they happen not to be contemporary films. My next film which will take a couple of years at least, will be a major film about the Peterloo massacre of 1819 because the bi-centenary is coming up and there has never been a movie about it. I don’t really see making period films as a deviation away from anything it’s just expanding the possibilities because people are people and looking at things through what you might call a historical perspective is as valid as a way of looking at real people as going out into the street and looking at the contemporary world.

I know you should not have favourites among your children, but do you have favourites amount them?

Some of my films I am especially proud of, not for myself but like all the films that we all make, they are collaborations by a huge number of people. One of the films that I think was a huge achievement for a great number of people is Vera Drake because it was a tough film to make and to get right but I am very proud of it.

Are there also films that have surprised you when working in an improvisational way?

I don’t think you should misunderstand the improvisational thing, it is not just a matter of anything goes.

All art is a synthesis of improvisation and order, whether you write or paint or make poetry or music, whatever you do.

What we do it that, except that the construction of the film and scripting is part of the process of creating and shooting it. I don’t think that you can quite talk about the surprise of thing, just because there is improvisation involved because my job is to make coherent, well structured, distilled, refined pieces of work but that is a separate question to are there surprises.. and the other answer is that there are surprises all the way down the line because it is an extraordinary thing to open up all kind of boxes and let things evolve and you think wow, I couldn’t have thought of that, so yes there are surprises!

Looking around you, you have had a long association with the London film school. Are there younger directors whom you admire or whose progress you follow?

The future is very, very bright. There are a huge number of very talented young film makers out there and technology has empowered them to get out there and do it.

Young people can get their hands on equipment. Obviously this means that there is all kinds of stuff that is made crudely that is rubbish. But more importantly than that, there is talent emerging everywhere and I think that the future of cinema is very rich.

Have you any advice for fellow graduates of the University of Warwick?

Never compromise. Never do what you don’t really think you should be doing. Never say I’ll do this because it will make it possible to do this afterwards. Stick to your guns and never compromise.

PR 153 August 2015

Click here to listen to the full interview:


Alex Buxton

Communications Manager, University of Warwick

Tel: +44 (0)2476 150423

Mob: +44 (0)7876 218166