The British maestro Mike Leigh came to worldwide fame only in the ’90s, with films like “Secrets & Lies, “Naked” and “Topsy-Turvy,” and he’s been immensely critically well-regarded ever since, with 2008’s “Happy Go Lucky” frequently featuring on “best of the century so far” lists. But Leigh didn’t come out of nowhere, and when he moved to feature films, he was already well known to the British public as a director of incisive television dramas about class and family (it’s Britain, everything’s about class).
The most famous of these television plays (as they used to be called, back when they still existed) is the 1977 “Abigail’s Party,” an excruciatingly brilliant piece about snobbery, social climbing and secret sadnesses, but Leigh made a number of others, including this one right here, “The Permissive Society,” from 1975. Made for the ITV series “Second City Firsts,” so named because most of them were the first piece by the writer (though in Leigh’s case this wasn’t), and because they were filmed in Birmingham, England’s second city (as far as anyone who isn’t from Manchester is concerned).
“The Permissive Society” deals with much of the same territory as “Abigail’s Party,” though there’s a slight edge of grit to this story of a young woman meeting her boyfriend’s sister. It’s a shorter, tighter piece, well worth a look both as an early work from a master of the craft and as a perfect example of the kind of simple, subtle TV that doesn’t get made much anymore. Enjoy. [The Seventh Art]