My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) Thatchers Britain With Gay Love and Soap Suds

The 80s was a weird and wonderful time. My era. Generation X. Born in the 70s and grew up in the 80s. Video rental, smoking cigarettes behind the school bike shed, underage drinking, sniffing glue!…… and those dreaded “Thatcher Years“! Good old Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dividing the nation. Tory rule went on forever. It always felt bleak times. Constantly surrounded by the threat of nuclear destruction, the narrative of pop culture at the time. Music videos and TV shows were awash with images of the triad of superpowers. America, The UK and Russia, all with itchy trigger fingers ready to push the button… Sniff some more glue! Vast unemployment swept across the land. Three million and counting were numbers said to be out of work and claiming benefits on the dole. The miners strikes, Greenham Common CND protests and the AIDS epidemic filled the news cycle… Pass the Evo-Stik!

There was also the sickness of racial hatred and fascism scrawled in crude writing across the walls of neighborhoods and streets. It wasn’t just racism against the Black, Asian communities or anyone different from the so called population, prejudice also filtered heavily through against the gay and homosexual community. Some might say nothing has really changed? I don’t believe that, things started to get, maybe I should say, started to feel better. Well, until social media and hacky journalism played a massive part of rallying everyone against each others throats. Saying that, the Conservative government is starting to mirror the length of old Maggie’s power once again! History can’t keep repeating can it? Surely we can learn? Damn it Wolfie lets get off this doom and gloom and on to the film… Can there be positives?

Do you want the short answer? Well, no, not really but wait just a moment before you reach for another brain numbing hit on the glue pot. Ok, theres lots of that 80s bleakness on show here. The usual suspects. Poverty, unemployment, racial tension as it was but what the film, My Beautiful Laundrette does, well quite frankly, beautifully, is the interracial gay relationship between our two leads. The young carefree Pakistani Omar (Gordon Warnecke) and the rough around the edges white boy, Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis). You see, the film never judges, plays down or shows the “controversial” love affair in a bad light. It’s very tender and honest. I don’t believe there are any slurs or taboo’s used, not a single line of judgement said. Even with the added mixed-race side of things to rally the small majority. However, the racist point of view is still heavy and large, even if it’s kind of portrayed with a slight comic twist. The racist gang are led by Genghis (Richard Graham). These bovver boys are old friends of Johnny. Skinheads and thugs waiting to pounce with pure intimidation or to lash out with fists. They are always present and generally ignored. Pushed aside, though you can feel there’s an air of viciousness about to explode.

Tagline – A Sharp, Sophisticated, Funny, Sexy, Compassionate Picture…

The support cast add so much to the drama, with fine performances and comic touches. Best of all is the ever brilliant Saeed Jaffrey who relishes every scene he appears as the boss Uncle Nasser. He’s busy amassing his empire whilst juggling his work place, wife and children as he holds down a loving affair with the glamorous and his beloved, Rachel (Shirley Anne Field). Another famous Indian face is Roshan Seth who probably doesn’t want to be remembered for Dhalsim the mystical stretchy armed character from Street Fighter (1994) so I apologise for bringing that one up if you’re reading this Roshan, smiley face. He plays the bedridden alcoholic teacher, brother of Nasser and father to Omar. He spends his day downing bottles of vodka, disillusioned with life. There’s also Derrick Branche who plays Nasser’s right-hand man Salim. A stylish wide boy with a passion for future tech and drug smuggling side hustles. He’s not keen on the addition of Omar’s to the business but hey families, family.
I also had a huge crush on the little feisty, naughty flesh showing, free spirit of Tania (Rita Wolf). Yes we were briefly married and she kept my name as well as half my VHS collection! Some you lose I guess but hey we had a good time.

My Beautiful Laundrette is directed by Stephen Frears. A wonderful director who has a wildly fantastic collection of films to his name. I reviewed two in my early days on Wolfman’s Cult Film with Gumshoe (1971) with Albert Finney and a little tribute to the late great John Hurt in The Hit (1984). He would follow up My Beautiful Laundrette with two films that fit very well with it, one called Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987) and the other Prick Up Your Ears (1987). These would lead on to big Hollywood movies like Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and two personal favorites in The Grifters (1990) and High Fidelity (2000) He would return to deep drama with Philomena (2013) with comedian Steve Coogan and Dame Judi Dench both giving star performances and cementing Stephen Frears as one of the best British directors of our time.

The screenplay was created by Hanif Kureishi which he would be nominated for a Academy Award but unfortunately lost to Hannah and Her Sisters. Kind of understandable that to be fair. Hanif and Steven Frears would work together on another mix-race drama dropped in a melting pot starring Frances Barber and Ayub Khan-Din in Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987). He would then write the novel The Buddha of Suburbia that spawned a fantastic TV series starring the young charismatic Naveen Andrews.

The soundtrack is scored by Stanley Myers, a veteran of big worldwide film scores to British television show theme tunes and incidental background music. Here on My Beautiful Laundrette he has a musical genius at hand in the up and coming score master, Hans Zimmer. The strange thing here is they go under the alias Ludus Tonalis and go on to create a strange comical bubbling machine soap sound for the laundromat scenes that sound like they may of been created on an old Moog synthesiser. It’s very cheesy and fun at the same time.

So this is essentially a love story set during the mid 80s with the all the drama of an inner city with added washing machines and soap bubbles! Both myself and Mrs Wolf had seen My Beautiful Laundrette about 35 years ago. We both commented how much we loved it but neither had managed to watch it again since. With my daughter home for a week from Uni and all three of us eager to watch a film, we made the easy decision to give the clothes washing interracial love drama ago. Fingers crossed it had held up? And you know what it had, it’s really very good. OK some of the acting, well dialogue, can go off at times. Picture the old comic strip agony aunt casebook, Dear Deidre kind of thing. If you can get past the cheesy moments then just sit back and enjoy what essentially feels more like a stage play. It was very groundbreaking and a real testament to unique British film of the times.

Thanks for having a read. All the best from me, Mikey Wolfman…

Two tracks in my record collection to wrap up this review. Both of which could of easily been part to the soundtrack.

Vivien Goldman – Launderette

Lion Youth – Three Million On The Dole

18 thoughts on “My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) Thatchers Britain With Gay Love and Soap Suds

  1. I too saw this one in the cinema back in the day.
    I agree with your appraisal that it has a ‘stage play’ feel to it.
    Your write-up was up to your usual gold standard of wit and insight.
    Glue pot indeed!
    Well done Wolfie.
    Thanks for re-awakening my memory of this early Daniel Day-Lewis film – apparently his second film performance after THE BOUNTY (1984).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh yes The Bounty I had forgot he was in that. What a great film that is. Been a while, a good time for a revisit I think. All round brilliant cast too.
      Haha thank you for the kind words Glen. I got through a whole tube of glue writing that one!!
      In pure Lloyd Bridges fashion 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • DDL had a small role in Sunday Bloody Sunday way back in 1971. He also had a small part in Gandhi in 1982- as I remember it, he’s one of the men who forces Gandhi off the pavement when he’s in South Africa. I think he was also in Runners with James Fox, so The Bounty was his fourth film or thereabouts.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I guess getting a bigger billing maybe. I never realised he popped up in Gandhi.
        I thought his performance in “In the Name of the Father” was nuts when it came out. And I loved to watch that again with another veiwing of “My Left Foot”
        I’ve never seen “The Boxer”!!
        And dare I say my favorite DDL film is….. “The Last of the Mohicans” I’ve seen it so many times. Still brings on the water works. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post 🙂 I love both My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid 🙂 I think they would make a fitting double-bill 🙂 Speaking of The Thatcher Years, what would you make of the current situation regarding Brexit under the current leadership of Boris Johnson? Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great read. It’s definitely an interesting film, though maybe it’s trying a bit too hard sometimes. I don’t think I’ve seen any of the other Hanif Kureishi stuff – not even the irresistibly titled Sammy and Rosie Get Laid.

    If it’s any reassurance, I don’t think this lot of Tories are very Thatcherite. If we’re getting flashbacks, it’s probably going to be more like the 70s than the 80s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a great title isn’t it. I do need to go watch Sammy and Rosie Get Laid again as I remember liking it at the time but tbh can’t recall much other than the cast which included Roland Gift from Fine Young Cannibals.

      I see that Hanif Kureishi wrote Venus (2006) with Peter O’Toole with a great cast of oldies, like Leslie Phillips, Vanessa Redgrave and Richard “Monty” Griffiths. I wanted to see that film when it came out then completely forgot about it till now!

      Oh good God Jay, thankfully they are as far from Thatcherites as you could be. This new lot are Blairites with a blue colour change. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, I have seen Venus, I didn’t realise that was him. O’Toole is good in that. I think Roland Gift was in Scandal as well. Not sure what happened to him.

        Boris Johnson’s political philosophy seems to just be whatever he thinks he needs to do (or just say) to stay in power. Which isn’t totally bad, as it does mean some responsiveness to public opinion, as long as he’s competent. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to be very competent!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Oh yes so he is. Can’t remember him in it if I’m honest though that would be because I was drawling over Joanne Whalley. Her as the medieval princess Sorsha in Willow broke me and then Scandal! She messed up my late teens lol..

          Yes the not very competent remark is the thing! If he could sort that out and clean up his appearance a bit, ole Boris would be fine. Unfortunately he can’t escape his buffoonery nature.

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  4. I love how your response to everything and anything that happened during the ’80s was “sniff more glue,” lol
    And you and Rita Wolf married, huh? Kept half your VHS collection?! LOL
    You know, I have no idea why I never saw this. I remember it being talked about a lot back in the day. Believe it or not, did NOT know DDL was in this !!! Daniel Day Lewis stars in My Beautiful Laundrette? Omg, no way! He’s one of my favorite actors of all time. Even though he can almost be Nic Cage intense/crazy sometimes.
    Sounds like if one can get past the little bit of ham-fistedness going on, it’s a good flick, and now that I know I missed out, it’ll have to go on my list. It’s MY turn to give the “clothes washing interracial love drama” a go! lol 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hehe OK! I might be exaggerating the glue a bit! Though it really was a thing in Britain around that era. Stupidly, as a kid and like the young idiot I did try it. Luckily that didn’t “stick” (ok I’ll get my coat) unlike the booze and the fags now part of my essence, knocking on a half century.
      If you are a fan of DDL then yes you must watch this early big performance from him. OK you will be totally fine if you don’t see it lol. His acting chops and range goes into overdrive after this one. Still, its an important film of the time and great to look back and see how well they depicted the “different” love affair as being total normal, as it so should be.
      Yeah get your dirty clothes ready for a washing and jump on in to the quirky love drama. hehe

      Liked by 2 people

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