Hannah and Annie were university room-mates and best friends. Reuniting six years later, they reminisce about their experiences at college, and, in the course of one weekend, rekindle their friendship and encounter many of their old friends.
The problem with the attention bestowed on Mike Leigh's Secrets And Lies is that his follow-up film, Career Girls, is bound to be subject to the kind of hole-picking, scrutinising and unfair comparisons that will find it wanting in some way. Career Girls is certainly a much simpler, but no less ambitious film.
The action focuses on two former students: citrus-tongued young spike, Hannah (Cartlidge of Naked fame) and eczema-ridden, punkish, head-twitching bag of nerves, Annie (newcomer Steadman - who passed up the opportunity of appearing in Secrets And Lies). The story centres on the reunion of these two awkward associates a decade on, now they have become thirty-something, lower middle class, taupe-wearing, successful executives. What is revealed, after the two have sat through a wonderfully-observed stale rendezvous at a train station, is that they have a lot to reminisce about. And as they partake in nostalgia, the action moves back and forth from present day to college days with dextrous ease.
One of the surest moments of the film is a self-contained vignette in which they go flat-hunting in one of the 80s yuppie blocks near Canary Wharf. Here they encounter one of Thatcher's Basildon men, a stand-out performance from newcomer Serkis. Looking out across London, Hannah asks him: "I suppose on a clear day you can see the class war from here." It's a Leigh-ism likely to become as loved as anything from Secrets And Lies.
As is the norm with the best of Leigh, Career Girls is a masterly observation of the foibles of the human condition, rendered with an incisive bite and delivered with boisterous wit.