My Beautiful Laundrette

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Get on your bike and get a job. Crime doesn't pay. Anybody can be a success. If you're Asian or gay, you're not wanted here. These were the mixed messages of the Thatcher era, and few people wrote about them more eloquently than Hanif Kureishi. His award-winning screenplay for My Beautiful Laundrette presents a London in which those with ambition are happy to take on all kinds of dodgy deals whilst left-wing principles seem to guarantee poverty and young white men, completely disaffected by politics, roam the streets threatening immigrant families and smashing up their stores. But it does so with wit, humour and a palpable degree of affection. This story of complicated human beings trying to get by in a morally confusing world made director Stephen Frears' name on the international stage, and it remains highly watchable today.

Gordon Warnecke is Omar, a young man eager to make something of himself. Though his father would like him to get an education, he is drawn to his charismatic uncle Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey) who offers him a string of odd jobs. He ends up managing a laundromat and becomes determined to make it a success, aided by his white boyfriend Johnny (Daniel Day Lewis), who just happens to be a sometime member of a racist gang. The affair is kept strictly secret and it is suggested that Omar marry Nasser's daughter Tania (Rita Wolf); but Tania has ambitions of her own, and Nasser also has a few secrets.

All of this could easily descend into soap opera, but finely judged performances and a deft avoidance of sentiment help it to keep its head above water. Jaffrey is wonderful as always but it's Warnecke who excels in a difficult role, managing to keep audience sympathy despite his narcissism, balancing the ruthlessness of his (admittedly modest) ambition with a developing sense of loyalty to his community. Whilst Johnny's background might lead one to expect that he would be the one struggling most with the love affair, it's really Omar who has the tougher journey to make, reconciling his highly individualistic beliefs with a relationship which is becoming more than just physical.

My Beautiful Laundrette points up the ironies of a culture in which it was those with the lowest social status who were often the best equipped to succeed, and it questions Thatcherite values without undermining the value of Omar and Johnny's commercial achievements. It's a tender love story, a biting comedy, and a perfectly captured slice of British history.

Reviewed on: 16 Jun 2009
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My Beautiful Laundrette packshot
A young Asian man and his white boyfriend try to save a struggling laundromat in Thatcher's Britain.
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Director: Stephen Frears

Writer: Hanif Kureishi

Starring: Gordon Warnecke, Daniel Day-Lewis, Saeed Jaffrey, Roshan Seth, Derrick Branche, Rita Wolf, Souad Faress, Richard Graham, Shirley Anne Field

Year: 1985

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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