Once Upon A Time In The Midlands

Once Upon A Time In The Midlands


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Things are different north of Watford. Life muddles. It doesn't burst apart. There's the Bingo and the pub and crates of pot noodles in the toilet, because Charlie can't find the time to move 'em.

Charlie (Ricky Tomlinson) and Carol (Kathy Burke) are married with kids. They live in separate houses - same street, like. It was his Country & Western. He couldn't stop it, could he? Calls hisself Charlie Nashville and has a One Nite Only gig every Saturday. The rest of the time he's rhyming lyrics and walking about in a dirty suede jacket with tassels.

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Comedy is the true leveller. There's humour in everything. It oils the wheels. You don't want to be looking at the whole sad failure of life and thinking, why ain't it better, mam?

Carol's brother Jimmy (Robert Carlyle) is a bad 'un. He's done time up there, you know. He left Shirl (Shirley Henderson) and little Marlene (Finn Atkins) because he didn't like living in the Midlands. Went back to Glasgow. Silly sod. Shirl's with Dek (Rhys Ifans) now. He has that garage over the way, but he's an odd one. Welsh, you see. Very particular.

Shane Meadows introduces the perfect ensemble cast for comic business. This is not a farce. Far from it. The people are funny, especially Dek. He's sensitive about that. Thinks everyone's laughing at him. Which they are. Silly numpkin.

Shirl doesn't love him like she loved Jimmy in the old days. He knows that and it hurts inside. When Jimmy hitches down the motorway, with a bag full of stolen dosh, and shows his face in the neighbourhood again, you can imagine what's going to happen.

Well, it doesn't. Not the way you think. Films are surprising sometimes. They start off doing one thing and then do another. This starts off making jokes about people who can't cope and then goes serious on you. It's about love, really. How you can't take it for granted, or abuse it in any way, or think it's always going to be there like The Sound Of Music at Christmas.

As well as being more star-studded than anything else he has done, this is Meadows come of age. After years making low budget, highly promising snatches of Nottingham life, culminating in A Room For Romeo Brass three years ago, Once Upon A Time In The Midlands shows a maturity that embraces every aspect of what commitment and family means and why those sentimental things that blokes feel uncomfortable with have a purpose and a reason.

There are two performances that crown the glory of a movie that feels good all the way through. The first is Atkins, whose self-confidence and assurity is astonishing for an actress her age. The other is Ifans, who for too long has been typecast as a loveable rogue. As the awkward Dek, whose style in clothes matches his wit, he excels in that state of uncool where a pratfall means a gangly goof on slippery lino.

Reviewed on: 17 Aug 2002
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Once Upon A Time In The Midlands packshot
Rhys Ifans and Robert Carlyle tussle for the affections of Shirley Henderson.
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Director: Shane Meadows

Writer: Shane Meadows, Paul Fraser

Starring: Rhys Ifans, Robert Carlyle, Shirley Henderson, Kathy Burke, Ricky Tomlinson, Finn Atkins, James Cosmo

Year: 2002

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


EIFF 2002

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