How, then, do you follow a quartet of immense, excellent and enormously successful films, a run of projects that culminated in five Oscar nominations for Secrets And Lies alone? How, for that matter, do you top High Hopes, Life Is Sweet and the mighty, brooding Naked? Suppose you're Mike Leigh, arguably England's finest director: what the hell do you do next?
Well, you make a small film. Almost a tiny film. A film that comes in at under an hour-and-a-half, with only two, possibly three, main characters, and a couple of medium-sized supporting roles. You don't question any eternal truths; you don't rail against any injustices; you don't tackle any big issues. You simply let some great actors do some skillful acting, gently tap into all the subtle expertise you've accumulated from more than a quarter-of-a-century's worth of film-making, and let events run their course. Easy.
The result's a soft, strong, but not very long mini-gem that's intimate, loveable and perfectly observed. Yes, it may indeed be a slight movie, melting like a snowflake on your tongue, but it's no less delectable for coming and going so quickly.
Katrin Cartlidge (superb as the sister Dodo in Breaking The Waves) and Lynda Steadman (no relation to Alison, Leigh's other half) are a couple of career women - career girls, if you will - who meet up to for a weekend in London. Here they reminisce about the time they lived together as students, and muse on how the passing of the years has affected them. By chance, they bump into a series of characters from their past, and, through flashbacks to their youth, we see how their lives have changed.
And that's pretty much it. Except that there are delights to be savoured on many levels, not least the excellent acting from all concerned, and the relentlessly well-sustained atmosphere of gentle humour and pathos. Career Girls may be too neatly structured for some, and it will take you about half-an-hour to stop being irritated to hell by the studenty wittering of the flashbacked characters (before you remember how hideously real their manner of speech actually is), but this is a witty, biting and honest film that's all the more affecting for its pseudo-naiveté.
It's difficult to come up with reasons to watch this film. It's not that funny, nor clever: frequently it's depressing, and by the end doesn't amount to much. But this shouldn't deter put you from a pic that, quietly and beautifully, is great.