Cyril Bender (Davis) and his girlfriend Shirley (Sheen) have a contented working class life in London. Meanwhile, Cyril’s social climbing sister Valerie (Tobias) is obsessed with the tacky possessions of her upwardly mobile existence. Their aging mother (Dore) is in declining mental health, much to the distaste of her pretentious yuppie neighbors (Manville and Bamber). Family tensions come to a head when Valerie insists on throwing a 70th birthday party for a reluctant Mrs. Bender.
Director Leigh assembled this talented team of actors to develop a story about England divided during the Thatcher years. Kitchen-sink realism meets broad caricature as cynical socialist Cyril contends with a gentrified London embodied by upper class twit Manville. Tobias also makes her shallow character appropriately unsympathetic. But the film really belongs to Sheen and Davis, who infuse the satire with genuine feeling through their naturalistic performances. This knowing, pungent slice-of-life drama marked the beginning of Leigh’s exceptional body of work.