Play for Today (1970–1984)
6 user 1 critic

Hard Labour 

A quiet and put-upon house cleaner breaks her silence.


Mike Leigh


Mike Leigh (deviser)




Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Liz Smith ... Mrs. Thornley
Clifford Kershaw Clifford Kershaw ... Jim Thornley
Polly Hemingway ... Ann
Bernard Hill ... Edward
Alison Steadman ... Veronica
Vanessa Harris Vanessa Harris ... Mrs. Stone
Cyril Varley Cyril Varley ... Mr. Stone
Linda Beckett Linda Beckett ... Julie
Ben Kingsley ... Naseem
Alan Erasmus Alan Erasmus ... Barry
Rowena Parr Rowena Parr ... June
June Whittaker June Whittaker ... Mrs. Rigby (as June Whitaker)
Paula Tilbrook Paula Tilbrook ... Mrs. Thornley's friend
Keith Washington Keith Washington ... Mr. Shaw
Louis Raynes Louis Raynes ... Tallyman


Mrs. Thornley works very hard without notice or appreciation. Every day she keeps her own house clean, attends to her husband and unmarried daughter, Ann, then cleans other women's houses. She looks tired and has little affect. She does have a married son and a daughter-in-law who's chatty and pleasant. Mrs. Thornley's husband works nights, except for Saturdays, when he expects conjugal attention. Ann's worried about pregnancy and talks to her mum about labor and childbirth. Later, Mrs. Thornley goes to confession at her parish church, and she makes an extraordinary revelation. Written by <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Comedy | Drama







Release Date:

12 March 1973 (UK) See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Featured in Imagine: The One and Only Mike Leigh (2014) See more »

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User Reviews

A time well buried
3 August 2008 | by paul2001sw-1See all my reviews

'Bleak Moments', 'Hard Labour': the titles of Mike Leigh's early works certainly pull no punches; and at times, when watching the latter, one yearns for the hilarious ambiguity of the later works like 'Life is Sweet', for it's uncomfortable viewing. A portrait of life in a decidedly unfashionable northern town circa 1973, you could be forgiven for thinking that the sixties had never swung; life here is ugly, and riven by divisions defined by class and sex. As always with Leigh, there are some acute observations, and the central character's upwardly mobile daughter-in-law, played by Alison Steadman, provides a hint of a world I recognise (and also a hint of Steadman's later turn in 'Abigail's party'). But there's not many laughs, just unrelenting awfulness. Life is still hard for many, but it's hard to feel nostalgic for this lost world. What should be regretted, however, is the loss of 'Play for Today', and the immense amount of talent that used to go into making dramas like this (to be broadcast to huge audiences by modern standards); in the world of multi-channels and celebrities, something, at least, has been lost.

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