In 1985, director Stephen Frears (Philomena) had been working in film — mostly British TV — for 16 years, but had not made a name for himself in international film. Daniel Day-Lewis wasn’t a stranger to the movies either, but he hadn’t become a major player. A fledgling production company called Working Title, that would go on to be a fixture in (generally) quality British filmmaking — was virtually unheard of. All of that changed with a modestly budgeted little film called My Beautiful Laundrette. This heavily layered multicultural, multisexuality romantic comedy-drama — by dramatist turned first-time screenwriter Hanif Kureishi — shook up world cinema as few films of that decade had. Suddenly, everybody involved was on the world stage when the film turned out to be an art house hit — and beyond — with U.S. audiences.
At its simplest level, it’s a culture-and-class-clash story taking place in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, wrapped around a gay love story, and detailing the inner-family politics of an Anglo-Pakistani family. That’s really a way of saying that the film really has no simple level. Interestingly, it was promoted largely on its gay angle — yet the movie itself only drops the mildest innuendo on this topic till it’s nearly half over, at which point it becomes a remarkably honest gay love story. It’s frank, yet tasteful, and it subverted the oldest gay movie cliches in the book.
Neither Omar (Gordon Warnecke, whose career never really took off), nor Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis) are “obvious” gays of the kind Hollywood movies tended toward. But that was nothing compared to the film’s ending. I mean everyone who went to the movies knew that gay relationships always ended, if not tragically, then at least badly, right? Seems no one told the makers of this film — and it was a breath of fresh air. It helped that the characters — not just Omar and Johnny — were appealing and had surprising depth. It also helped that the film was fast-paced, funny and cinematically clever. It’s a landmark film that is completely painless to watch.
The Asheville Film Society will screen My Beautiful Laundrette Tuesday, Jan. 28, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.