Once Upon A Time In The Midlands

What if you were to tell a small-scale story about a bunch of lower-class suburban English folk in the high dramatic style of an Italian Western? That appears to have been the question that drove director and co-writer Shane Meadows to put a peculiar spin on an otherwise familiar tale of family dysfunction, and the result is a kitchen sink-lite drama encumbered...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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What if you were to tell a small-scale story about a bunch of lower-class suburban English folk in the high dramatic style of an Italian Western? That appears to have been the question that drove director and co-writer Shane Meadows to put a peculiar spin on an otherwise familiar tale of family dysfunction, and the result is a kitchen sink-lite drama encumbered by a weirdly out of place score in the eccentric style of Ennio Morricone. The film begins as Carol (Kathy Burke) pours out her family woes on a Ricky Lake-style TV show. Her husband, Charlie (Ricky Tomlinson), is obsessed with becoming a country western singer, a career in which he has had absolutely no demonstrable success. Practical Carol has shown him the door and he's moved into a hovel up the street, but he clearly carries a torch for his wife and Carol is the first to admit he's a good father to their children. In addition to Charlie, Carol is accompanied on the show by Shirley (Shirley Henderson), a single mother whose daughter, Marlene (Finn Atkins), was fathered by Carol's feckless stepbrother, Jimmy (Robert Carlyle). Carol and Shirley live next door to each other, and since Jimmy decamped several years earlier, Shirley has taken up with the dull but good-hearted Dek (Rhys Ifans), whom everyone considers an all-around good fellow. For the show's big, audience-pleasing surprise, Dek proposes to Shirley on air; unfortunately, she turns him down. It's not that she doesn't love him, she protests feebly. It's just that, well, she doesn't know what but she's not ready to get married. All this trash-TV drama is witnessed by Jimmy, who's up in Glasgow preparing to rob some party clowns with the help of three thuggish friends. The robbery goes badly, but Jimmy escapes with the cash and decides to hitchhike down to the boring Midlands and win Shirley back. What chance does the dreary Dek stand against a dashing reprobate like Jimmy? The complications are predictable, as is the resolution; what keeps the film from sinking into its own inconsequentiality is the throaty-voiced Henderson, who can make the most preposterous behavior ring absolutely true. Burke, Carlyle and Ifans have all be better used in other films, and seem to be marking time in this slight curiosity.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: R
  • Review: What if you were to tell a small-scale story about a bunch of lower-class suburban English folk in the high dramatic style of an Italian Western? That appears to have been the question that drove director and co-writer Shane Meadows to put a peculiar spin… (more)

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