J.D. Lafrance
My Beautiful Laundrette: Criterion Collection DVD Review

My Beautiful Laundrette: Criterion Collection

July 28, 2015

Director: Stephen Frears,
Starring: Gordon Warnecke, Daniel Day-Lewis, Saeed Jaffrey, Roshan Seth, Derrick Branche, Rita Wolf, Souad Faress,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) was one of the first films released by the prolific British film production company Working Title Films whose presence would be felt greatly in the 1990s. It also marked a significant success in the burgeoning careers of its screenwriter Hanif Kureishi and one of its stars Daniel Day-Lewis. Set in Thatcher era London, the film took an unflinching look at homosexuality and racism with the social and economic climate of the mid-1980s as its background.

We meet Johnny (Day-Lewis) and his friend being ousted from the derelict house they’ve been squatting in. Meanwhile, Omar (Warnecke) lives in a small apartment with his father (Seth). Right from the get-go, Frears immerses us in local color, from the ‘80s New Wave hair-do Johnny sports to the trains that constantly run outside Omar’s apartment. The director submerges us in the sights and sounds of working class London. Without any dialogue, Frears also cleverly establishes the racial tension that exists by having Johnny and his friend get kicked out by black and Pakistani men.

Omar gets a job at his Uncle Nasser’s (Jaffrey) parking garage where he cleans cars. Nasser understands that his brother is an alcoholic mess and takes Omar under his wing, teaching him how to have entrepreneurial spirit by letting him run a laundrette. It’s quite an experience going from the shabby conditions of his father’s failed lifestyle to Nasser’s well-to-do life. It’s a culture shock and Omar is taken in by the seductive lure of his uncle’s nice things.

Initially, Omar has no idea what he’s doing – the place is run-down, covered in graffiti and grime with malfunctioning machines. He hires old childhood friend Johnny to clean up the joint, keep out the riff-raff and help him fix it up so that it can make a profit. They soon become romantically involved, which complicates things because of their very different racial backgrounds.

Frears doesn’t shy away from the racial conflict that exists with Omar’s laundrette residing in a white neighborhood whose populace don’t like the foreign presence and aren’t afraid of letting him know. Johnny’s friends resent him for working with Pakistanis and think he should stick with his own kind. On top of all that, Omar and Johnny are lovers and have to keep their relationship a secret from everyone.

Gordon Warnecke and Daniel Day-Lewis play well off each other with the former playing an ambitious young man trying to be a success like his uncle while the latter portrays a raw street tough – it would be one of the many immersive parts that have populated his illustrious career. Omar and Johnny make for an unlikely couple but they make it work.

My Beautiful Laundrette is a wonderfully insightful slice-of-life story, a snapshot of life in Thatcher era England that addresses the complex issues of race, class and sexuality in a real and honest way that isn’t done much anymore but still exists. Frears treats this all matter-of-factly, which is typical of his understated approach to filmmaking in general. It is this deft, subtle approach that allows the actors to shine and the screenplay they have to work with come to life.

Special Features:

The Criterion Collection’s new Blu-Ray transfer successfully preserves My Beautiful Laundrette’s grungy 16mm film stock in an aesthetically pleasing way. This is the way the film was meant to be seen.

Producer Colin MacCabe interviews director Stephen Frears. He talks about how he got his start, working his way up first as an assistant for the likes of Lindsay Anderson in the 1960s and then getting regular work at the BBC in the 1970s. They discuss how Margaret Thatcher’s assent to power changed British cinema and television. He also talks about how he was given the script for Laundrette and his impressions of its subject matter.

Hanif Kureishi is interviewed and talks about some of the film’s themes. He was influenced by American writers like Jack Kerouac and J.D. Salinger, and rock ‘n’ roll music like Jimi Hendrix and especially David Bowie. He also talks about the origins of his script and working with Frears.

The founders of Working Title Films, producers Tim Beaven and Sarah Radclyffe, point out that Laundrette was originally going to be a T.V. movie. They got their start with a music video company and wanted to work with film directors. To this end, they got them to direct videos and met Frears as a result. They also talk about how they got Laundrette made.

There is an interview with Oliver Stapleton, the film’s cinematographer. He got his start on music videos and talks about how he got involved with Laundrette. He also talks about working with Frears and his method of filmmaking.

Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 96%

Website: https://www.criterion.com/films/28044-my-beautiful-laundrette


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