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The year is 1990, the rave scene has just entered England. The sound of the Stone roses lurks toward Shaun and the gang. This means that Woody and Lol are living in a domestic bliss, they are happy again. But this year will see huge changes in everyone. This is the year 1990. This is England.
Lyra Mae Thomas,
Christmas 1988. Soulmates, woody and Lol find themselves in exile from each other and the gang. Trying to understand the definition 'growing up', Shaun begins a course at College, that quickly takes the wrong turn.
Originally from the Midlands, Jimmy is currently living in Glasgow eking out a living as a hapless petty crook. One day, he sees his old family and friends - including his older foster sister Carol, her boyfriend/his old buddy Charlie, Jimmy's ex-wife and Carol's best friend Shirley, and Jimmy's pre-teen daughter Marlene - on a television talk show, they baring their souls to a national audience. He has not seen any of them in years. Of note on the show, Shirley rejects the marriage proposal of her slightly awkward live-in boyfriend Dek. Jimmy sees her answer to Dek as a reason to head back to the Midlands to reunite with his past, especially with Shirley and Marlene. Dek, already humiliated, is less than thrilled to see Jimmy back in their lives. In the ensuing duel between Jimmy and Dek for Shirley and Marlene's affections, others get caught up in the crossfire. Meanwhile, three of Jimmy's equally hapless crook friends from Glasgow come looking for him, Jimmy who left them high and ...Written by
When Dek (Rhys Ifans) finds out that Jimmy (Robert Carlyle) is back in town, he proclaims to Carol: "He's only your foster brother! He could have Hannibal Lecter's DNA for all we know!" Rhys Ifans went on to portray Grutas, Hannibal Lecter's nemesis, in Hannibal Rising (2007). See more »
Within the space of only a couple of years and with only his third film, Shane Meadows has joined Ken Loach and Mike Leigh as one of the (now) three British Directors whose films are simply unmissable by virtue of their director. Softer and gentler and therefore more accessible than either of it's predecessors, "Once upon a time in the Midlands" is a delight from start to finish. While "Twentyfourseven" and "A Room for Romeo Brass" were almost neo-realist in the Italian sense of the term, "Once upon a time ..." (the title alone eludes to the 'Italian' westerns) makes no such claims on "realism" reworking instead the classic western formula and laying it down in, of all places, Nottingham.
Shirley and Dec are happily unmarried in their extended family that comprises Shirley's daughter by her former partner Jimmy as well as Jimmy's foster-sister Carol and her country-and-western mad husband Charlie and their children. Things come to a head right at the start of the film when Dec proposes to Shirley on one of those dreadful TV audience participation shows (Sorry, Vanessa!) and she turns him down. Cue Jimmy, who has seen the show up in Glasgow, to ride into town to claim back Shirley.
What begins as broad comedy soon turns, if not quite sour, then at least darker and more poignant. Meadows' achievement is to allow his characters to behave humanely and realistically in situations that are often one step removed from 'realism' (and this time round he allows us the privilege of a happy ending). And if, in the end, it is this sense of the magical that detracts from the hammer-blows of "Romeo Brass" it remains a pleasure to spend a couple of hours in the company of these people.
The performances are, of course, superb (and Meadows is the best director of children working in cinema that I can think of). We expect nothing less of Kathy Burke and Robert Carlisle and Ricky Tomlinson but it is Shirley Henderson and Rhys Ifans as Shirley and Dek who are truly magnificent (they make you care deeply what happens to them) and as Shirley's daughter Finn Atkins is a real find.
I have just spent a couple of hours recently in the company of the characters who peopled Ken Loach's "Sweet Sixteen" and while admiring the brilliance of Loach's technique, still staggered out of the cinema in a state approaching despair. The lives of the people in Meadows' film aren't necessarily much better but, by God, there's hope there and for now that will do very nicely, thank you.
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