Mike Leigh OBE FRSL (born 20 February 1943) is an English film and theatre director, screenwriter, and playwright. He studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), East 15 Acting School, and further at the Camberwell School of Art, the Central School of Art and Design, and the London School of film Technique. He began his career as a theatre director and playwright in the mid-1960s, before transitioning to making televised plays and films for BBC Television in the 1970s and '80s.
Leigh's most notable works are the black comedy-drama Naked (1993), for which he won the Best director Award at Cannes, the Oscar-nominated, BAFTA- and Palme d'Or-winning drama Secrets & Lies (1996), the Golden Lion-winning working-class drama Vera Drake (2004), and the Palme d'Or-nominated biopic Mr. Turner (2014). Other well-known films include the comedy-dramas Life Is Sweet (1990) and Career Girls (1997), the Gilbert and Sullivan biographical film Topsy-Turvy (1999), and the bleak working-class drama All or Nothing (2002). His stage plays include Smelling A Rat, It's A Great Big Shame, Greek Tragedy, Goose-Pimples, Ecstasy, and Abigail's Party.
Leigh is known for his lengthy rehearsal and improvisation techniques with actors to build characters and narratives for his films. His purpose is to capture reality and present "emotional, subjective, intuitive, instinctive, vulnerable films." His films and stage plays, according to critic Michael Coveney, "comprise a distinctive, homogenous body of work which stands comparison with anyone's in the British theatre and cinema over the same period."
Leigh, Coveney said, has helped to create stars – Liz Smith in Hard Labour, Alison Steadman in Abigail's Party, Brenda Blethyn in Grown-Ups, Antony Sher in Goose-Pimples, Gary Oldman and Tim Roth in Meantime, Jane Horrocks in Life is Sweet, David Thewlis in Naked—and remarked that the list of actors who have worked with him over the years—including Paul Jesson, Phil Daniels, Lindsay Duncan, Lesley Sharp, Kathy Burke, Stephen Rea, Julie Walters – "comprises an impressive, almost representative, nucleus of outstanding British acting talent." His aesthetic has been compared to the sensibility of the Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu and the Italian Federico Fellini. Ian Buruma, writing in The New York Review of Books in January 1994, commented: "It is hard to get on a London bus or listen to the people at the next table in a cafeteria without thinking of Mike Leigh. Like other wholly original artists, he has staked out his own territory. Leigh's London is as distinctive as Fellini's Rome or Ozu's Tokyo."