Stephen Frears' 1985 film My Beautiful Laundrette - originally made for Channel 4 television but given a cinema release following favourable reviews at the Edinburgh Film Festival - is based on a screenplay by Hanif Kureishi and focuses on tensions between English and Pakistani communities in Thatcher-era London. At the same time, it famously revolves around a gay relationship between Gordon Warnecke's Omar and Daniel Day-Lewis' Johnny, making it groundbreaking in more ways than one. Kureishi's screenplay - not unusually for him - boasts very witty dialogue and casts an acerbic eye over the problems of society at the time, managing to do so with warmth rather than cynicism. At one point, Omar's Uncle Nasser gleefully refers to "this damn country that we hate and love" and tells Omar how to "squeeze the tits of the system". He gets all the best lines, including "I'm a professional businessman, not a professional Pakistani. And there is no question of race in the new enterprise." Kureishi writes believable characters supremely well; everybody here has complex motivations and is capable of good and bad actions, whilst inter-personal relationships are complicated and true. The film is firmly rooted in Thatcher's Britain - or at least popular perceptions of what that was - with racial tensions and marginalisation of minority groups running side by side with Nasser's (and Omar's) embracing of capitalism and the opportunities he sees within it. But it also isn't entirely predictable. Early in the film, a potentially violent encounter between Omar and his family with racist street punks is completely derailed when Omar largely ignores them and goes to talk to their leader Johnny, an old school friend. Kureishi examines the racist attitudes on display and then subverts them; not only does Johnny turn his back on his past when offered happiness with Omar, but Moose - a member of his old gang - is at several points seen helping out at the laundrette, until Salim deliberately drives over his foot. What is really striking now - given the film's reputation as a pivotal example of LGBTQ cinema - is that the relationship between Omar and Johnny goes almost entirely unremarked on by anyone else. This is largely because they are successful in keeping it a secret from Omar's family (his father Hussein and Nassar plot to pair him up with Tania, who quietly and bitterly leaves after - it is implied - learning the truth from Johnny) and from Johnny's former gang, but Kureishi's decision not to "out" them during the course of the story again illustrates that he is seldom a writer who takes predictable routes. Considering that it was made on a television budget in the nineteen eighties, My Beautiful Laundrette has aged well; shot on location around London suburbs Wandsworth, Vauxhall and Battersea, it is meticulously directed by Frears. Cinematographer Oliver Stapleton shows off the locations to good effect, including the titular laundrette. The scene of Nasser dancing with Rachel in the laundrette is beautifully shot and Frears intercuts it with a scene of Johnny and Omar making love which is one of many small touches that give the film an occasionally surreal air, along with Tania's sudden disappearance from the station platform at the end. Warnecke and Day-Lewis both give superb, naturalistic performances, and it proved to be something of a breakthrough performance for the latter who is remarkable as the working class thug trying to better himself and finding love. The film also benefits a superb supporting cast including Roshan Seth as Omar's alcoholic Papa, Saeed Jaffrey as his uncle Nasser and Derrick Branche as his cousin Salim. If there is one thing that dates the film more than its actual setting and plot, it is the unfortunate use of synthesisers on the soundtrack by Stanley Myers (and Hans Zimmer, credited as Ludus Tonalis),although on the other hand the whimsical bubbling sound used for scenes in the laundrette is simple but effective. But whilst some of the film's details may feel like historical artefacts (although depressingly not quite as much as they should),My Beautiful Laundrette remains a brilliantly observed and wickedly funny study of its central themes and characters.
My Beautiful Laundrette
Action / Comedy / Drama / Romance
My Beautiful Laundrette
Action / Comedy / Drama / Romance
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Much of the Pakistani Hussein family has settled in London, striving for the riches promised by Thatcherism. Nasser and his right hand man, Salim, have a number of small businesses and they do whatever they need to make money, even if the activities are illegal. As such, Nasser and his immediate family live more than a comfortable lifestyle, and he flaunts his riches whenever he can. Meanwhile, his brother, alcoholic Ali, once a famous journalist in Pakistan, lives in a seedy flat with his son, Omar. Ali's life in London is not as lucrative in part because of his left leaning politics, which does not mesh with the ideals of Thatcherism. To help his brother, Nasser gives Omar a job doing menial labor. But Omar, with bigger plans, talks Nasser into letting him manage Nasser's run down laundrette. Omar seizes what he sees as an opportunity to make the laundrette a success, and employs an old friend, Johnny - who has been most recently running around with a gang of white punks - to help him. Johnny and Omar have a special relationship, but one that has gone through its ups and downs, the downs fostered by anti-immigration sentiments of white England. Omar and Johnny each have to evaluate if their ideals of success are worth it at all cost.
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