We saw an absorbing little piece of cinema history last night. Strictly speaking it was not cinema but television, since it was made as a Play for Today, back in the days when the BBC used to do one-off high quality dramas. However, when I tell you that it was an early piece by Mike Leigh, and that I heard about it in a review for the film Sightseers, which was released last year, you'll see why I regard it as part of cinema history.
It was called Nuts in May, and can be hired from Lovefilm as part of a set of Plays for Today, and watched in the comfort of your own home. It has been awarded a very respectable 8.0 out of 10 by 917 users of IMDb, which sounds fair to me. Not bad going for a 36 year old made-for-television drama. That's slightly more than Atonement (7.8) and a lot more than Twighlight (5.2). Sightseers, the black comedy about a camping holiday which sparked this foray into the past scores 6.6, but has only chalked up 42 user ratings so far. We haven't watched that one yet.
Nuts in May features a middle class couple camping in Dorset. The husband is humourless and controlling, the wife earnest and down-trodden. Their relaxing stay on a campsite is deranged by the arrival of two sets of uncongenial neighbours. Don't read the Wikipedia entry, or even the full IMDb description, until you've seen the film, since they are full of plot spoilers. It is such a slow-build, atmospheric piece that it would be a shame to know any of the action at all in advance, but suffice it to say that after the first ten minutes you feel that something awful is going to happen, and that almost anything could. Seldom have I seen such a small cast using such slender resources, three tents, a car and the Dorset countryside, build and sustain such a palpable sense of dramatic tension.
The interplay of conflicting characters reminded me strongly of Ayckbourn, and the atmosphere somewhat of Rainy Day Women, another Play for Today from 1984, whose tapes seem sadly lost. We saw it on TV at the time, and I'd love to track down a copy, but don't think such a thing exists. It's interesting, if you've enjoyed Mike Leigh's more recent output, which I have, to see where he started, and how much he's changed in the past thirty years.
Nuts in May features a young Alison Steadman, already showing her colours as a commanding screen presence, but the whole cast is good, and the entire production is so redolent of the 1970s that if you were there you may feel faintly hysterical. The flares, the platforms, the cheesecloth smocks, the bad folk music, the ethnic shoulder bags, the grotty tents. Last night brought it all flooding back.
I'd strongly recommend you get hold of a copy and watch it. You will find it 84 minutes well spent.