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