Anyone who saw the magnificent, but magnificently depressing Vera Drake might be bracing themselves for another Mike Leigh downer – but Happy-Go-Lucky is anything but. The director's new film is a charming character study starring Sally Hawkins as a quirky, chirpy primary school teacher, Poppy, who delights in teasing her new driving instructor and living life to the full. An improvisational comedy drama, it's very funny and establishes Hawkins as a major talent to watch.
That said, Happy-Go-Lucky gets off to a slow start: you meet Poppy and her friends, but you're not quite sure where it's all going. Their dialogue is charming, but not compelling. Then Poppy has her first driving lesson, and bam: this becomes one of the sharpest, funniest movies in ages. Much of this is due to the chemistry between Hawkins and Eddie Marsan, who plays a fussy, snappy driving instructor who's seething with anger and prejudice. As his fury comes to the fore, the drama becomes more tense, but it's still all about character: you're dying to see how Poppy will deal with the situation.
"ANOTHER CLASSIC, QUOTE-WORTHY CHARACTER"
There are other plot strands to engage, including a troubled pupil and a potential romance, but it's the driving lesson dynamic that really hooks you in. Together with Hawkins, Leigh has created another classic, quote-worthy character in line with Brenda Blethyn's Cynthia in Secrets And Lies. And this time he'll make you come out with a smile on your face rather than a heavy heart.
Happy-Go-Lucky is out in the UK on 18th April 2008.