Co-Starring London: Happy-Go-Lucky

By london_alice Last edited 107 months ago
Co-Starring London: Happy-Go-Lucky

Films with London in the title aren't the only films about London - there are also loads of films that feature London, almost as a co-star. In this series, we'll take a look at those films - both the good and the very, very bad.

happygolucky.jpg Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

Director: Mike Leigh

Starring: Sally Hawkins, Alexis Zegerman, Eddie Marsan

We were really prepared to dislike Happy-Go-Lucky. Relentlessly cheerful people, for the most part, freak us out. But if even cynics as cold hearted as us were won over by this film, then we think Poppy’s appeal is pretty foolproof.

Happy-Go-Lucky tells the story of Poppy, a thirty year old single teacher who may be the single most cheerful person we’ve ever seen on screen. It’s as if Mike Leigh thought to himself "what if your alarmingly cheerful primary school teacher was like that all the time?" and then made a film about her. Poppy is the kind of person that is amused by life. Her bike gets stolen, she has horrible back pain, she gets in a fight with her sister - all fodder for a good chuckle. She takes a trampolining class, just for kicks, then takes up flamenco with a co-worker after a trampoline related injury puts an end to that. She goes out and gets pissed with her sister and friends, and comes up with crafts for her primary school class.

But, of course, this is a Mike Leigh film, so it’s not all sunshine and roses for Poppy. She decides to take driving lessons and ends up with the world’s angriest man as an instructor. She notices one of the kids in her class having a problem with anger, and gets in a counsellor to try and help out. She visits her pregnant sister in Brighton, despite knowing that arguments and confrontation will arise. She goes out of her way to talk to a homeless man, and tries to make a small difference in his life.

The London in this film is very different than any of the other’s we’ve seen. It’s sunny! All the time! We can imagine that plenty of people watching this film will scoff and be all "but it rains in London always! We know this to be true! Books and films have taught us this!", but that’s where the real Londoners will stand out. Especially after having an actual sunny bank holiday weekend, we Londoners know that London can have gorgeous weather.

There aren’t any big tourist locations to be seen here, except for a cropped St Pauls that Poppy rides past on her bike. This is the London of Londoners, not the London of tourists. Other than the final wide shot of the Serpentine, the glamorous wide shots in this film are of the suburbs, or council flats, or schools. It’s full of pubs, and bookshops, and markets. We don’t know about you, but that’s the London we live in.

We very much enjoyed this film, despite our natural mistrust of cheerfulness. And we very much liked its London. It’s one we wouldn’t mind seeing more of in films.

Time Spent In London: Everything except 9 minutes in Brighton

London Icons Spotted: A cropped St Pauls, the Serpentine and the Camden Lock train overpass. That’s pretty much it.

Glaring London Errors: None that we noticed.

Things They Got Right: Pretty much everything.

Overall Rating: 9/10

Previously on Co-Starring London:

28 Days Later

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

The Bourne Ultimatum

Children of Men

Sliding Doors

Spice World

Last Updated 25 May 2009


When I watched this film, I pretty much hated Poppy and all of her friends after the first five minutes. Relentless cheerfulness is one thing, but relentless nasal screeching of drunken gibberish is pretty hard to tolerate in a film.

But Mike Leigh, unsurprisingly, does know what he's doing. And before I knew what was happening, I caught myself smiling, and actually... horror... enjoying the film. Goddammit.


My rental DVD of this was horribly scratched, forcing me to give up, but I did watch for long enough to notice a fair number of scenes shot just round the corner from my place. Result: Lots of pointing at the screen. I'll watch it properly one day.


And the bookshop at the beginning is the rather lovely Crockatt and Powell.


I agree with Dave's first paragraph and then he goes and ruins it when he says he ended up enjoying the film.

I was averse to this film it when it came out, being as I think all the Mike Leigh films and characters I have seen have been completely over-egged - apart from Secrets and Lies (which sounds like a Woody Allen Film title). Remember Jane Horrocks in Life Is Sweet? I grew up in Essex and have never met anyone like that, with a voice like that. And don't get me started on Alison Steadman.

Anyway back to this film. I watched it earlier this year because Mark Kermode gave an award to the superb Eddie Marsden who plays the driving instructor. So I thought I'd give it a look. though having disagreed with him about Slumdog Millionaire, I should have known better!

The film opens with Poppy going into in a bookshop. This scene contains some glaring bits of mis-continuity such as a room that changes shape and shelves with books that change their contents whilst Poppy is leaning on them. (Later on in the film, a big deal is made about how the driving lessons are £22.50 yet twice we see Poppy dip into her bag and pull out a couple of notes. no change exchanged either way. I don't search for these things; they are just there for all to see.

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, Poppy. Is there anyone out there who would really put up with her for more than one evening; who wouldn't tell her to shut up and be sensible?! Leigh tries to be real, yet if we are to believe that there is a sensible Poppy underneath all that 'fake' cheerfulness why does she take up learning to drive and not pay atention to her instructor? As if a teacher would really behave like that, knowing how tedious it is when pupils do not pay attention.

If I was the driving instructor and had to deal with silly flippant comments like hers i think i too would end up a bit psychotic. And there's another fault... would this character REALLY have fancied her?! I doubt it.

Hmmm. All Mike Leigh films come across like poor TV dramas to me.

Sorry guys, I give it 4 out of 10