Little Voice (1998)

Director: Mark Herman
Starring: Michael Caine, Jane Horrocks, Ewan McGregor, Brenda Blethyn, Jim Broadbent
Screenwriters: Mark Herman (based on the play by Jim Cartwright)
Running Time: 96mins
UK Certificate: 15
MPAA Rating: R
Rating: 10 out of 10

Michael Caine was in a career slump when he agreed to take on the supporting role of seedy agent Ray Say in this Film Four production. It's fair to say that this film, more than any other, led to his recent career resurgence. The quality of his performance here is of Oscar-winning standard and it's possible that, although he won Best Supporting Actor for the following year's Cider House Rules, it was really for this role that he won the award.

Little Voice is a slight but thoroughly uplifting tale of a woman-child, LV (Horrocks), who was an amazing voice but a timid outlook. When down-at-hell Ray Say starts romancing her charicature of a mother, Mari Hoff (Blethyn), he discovers that she has an uncanny knack for impersonating the great female singers of the past. Seeing his opportunity, he books her into the local social club, without telling her. But LV is not keen to go as she hates crowds and the only people she really talks to are her dead father and Billy, the telephone repairman (Ewan McGregor).

There's very little happening in Little Voice, but that's more than fine, as it's a film rich in character detail. Director Herman's adaptation of Cartwright's original hit play is inspired, allowing even the most minor characters are fully rounded and believable. But Herman's genius is in finding three actors perfectly suited to their roles in Caine, Blethyn and Horrocks, each of whom shows emphatically why they are deservedly ranked among Britain's finest.

In the hands of lesser mortals than Caine and Blethyn, the characters of Ray Say and Mari Hoff could have been grotesque caricatures, but both manage to give performances of such subtlety and nuance that you are constantly torn between sympathising with them and celebrating their imminent downfall. And, to a generation who only knew her from Absolutely Fabulous, Horrocks is a revelation, recreating the role which was specifically written for her by Cartwright. Her voice mimics perfectly the tones of Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, Billie Holliday and the rest.

Scotland's own Ewan McGregor makes a genuine impression considering how little screen time he has, but the love interest does feel a little forced. Still, it's nice to see a role (other than Obi Wan) that allows Ewan to keep his kit on!


All were nominated for Baftas and Golden Globes, although only Caine won anything (Golden Globe, Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy/Musical). Blethyn was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, but lost to another British institution, Judi Dench.


Reel Views: Little Voice is incontrovertible evidence of how superior acting can turn a solid movie into a tremendous cinematic experience.... (read more)

Sight and Sound: Michael Caine gorges like a starving man on the best script he's had since Educating Rita.... (read more)


Mr. Boo: Are you messing with that Mari Hoff?
Ray Say: Hoff and on.
Mr. Boo: More on then Hoff, I should say.