17 September 2017



'You've got to know how to squeeze the tits of the system...'

This film launched the super-successful career of Daniel Day-Lewis, who recently announced his retirement from acting to do other stuff. My son says fashion designing, and he's normally right about random trivia like that. If we're wrong, do feel free to correct us...!

It earned Hanif Kureishi an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay and it's one of those films, like RITA, SUE AND BOB TOO (Tagline for that one reads THATCHER'S BRITAIN WITH HER KNICKERS DOWN), that you think of when you think of great British films from the 'Eighties. It's like the way you tend to think of Ken Loach and CATHY COME HOME and KES when you think of top-notch 'Sixties British films.

Set in a very British Britain, it's a story that encompasses race and class issues and issues of sexuality and homosexuality, and which looks at the generation gap with a witty if jaundiced eye. It's funny and well-written but there are some really grim truths behind the entertainment.

Omar is the main character. He's the school-leaving son of a Pakistani immigrant, a former academic who didn't seem to want to come to England at all. Certainly he hates it there, and now he spends his days in bed in their grotty little flat sweating out the booze he consumes seemingly non-stop. He bitches about England and he bitches about Omar not doing anything constructive with his life, while not exactly setting him much of an example.

Along comes Omar's rich Uncle Nasser, marvellously played by that fine actor Saeed Jeffrey. An immigrant like Omar and Omar's father (Nasser's brother), he's a successful entrepreneur with a fabulous house and a lovely English mistress as well as the more traditional wife and kids.

He has a completely different approach to the question of living in England than the one held by his whingy brother. Nasser sees England as a rich vein of opportunities waiting to be tapped. 'You've got to know how to squeeze the tits of the system...,' he tells a fascinated Omar, a young man who has yet, it seems, to squeeze the tits of a woman, never mind the system. 

Omar clearly perceives the difference between his complaining, fatalistic Papa, who just waits patiently for life to keep kicking him when he's down, and his dynamic Uncle Nasser, who saw his chance to make a packet of money and took it.

Likewise, Uncle Nasser's son Salim, who has the fantastic apartment, the fancy car and the beautiful wife with expensive tastes. Salim makes a lot of his money from drugs and porn, however, and he tells Omar that 'you're nothing in England without money,' a lesson that keeps being reiterated throughout the film. It doesn't seem to matter how you make it, just so long as you do.

Omar is thrilled when his uncle offers him the chance to manage one of his many businesses, a failing laundrette. Omar thinks he can really make something of this dingy little kip of a laundrette, while getting his foot on the business ladder at the same time. He starts wearing suits and acting like the successful man he hopes one day to be.

To help him renovate, revamp and run the laundrette, he enlists the help of Daniel Day-Lewis's character Johnny. Johnny is as London as they come and numbers various members of the National Front (Remember their slogan'Immigrants Out?') as his friends. A friendship between him and Omar the 'Paki' was forged long ago when the pair were in school together.

Johnny, strangely enough, doesn't care that Omar is a 'Paki,' although his racist friends still care very much. Equally, Omar doesn't hold Johnny's former racist views and activities against him at all, and just sees him as a friend he really likes and want to get back in touch with. 

Fortunately for Omar and the laundrette, Johnny is in the mood for giving up his old racist ways and all the pointless hanging around doing nothing in favour of working with Omar. The stage is set for some seriously soapy shenanigans...

Both sides of the immigrant experience are clearly illustrated here in the characters of Nasser and his much less proactive brother. If Omar was in any way protected from racist abuse in his youth, he's coming up against it squarely now in his attempts to make the laundrette work while Johnny's former skin-headed and heavily-booted mates practically patrol the place day and night. They're always there, just hanging around endlessly.

In its exploration of the immigrant experience in Britain, the film reminds me very much of EAST IS EAST, an excellent film with a similar theme from 1999 starring the late great Om Puri as Mr. Khan. Mr. Khan was an immigrant chip-shop owner who married an Englishwoman while he still had a wife back home in Pakistan.

The kids Mr. Khan has by the Englishwoman, who's played by the marvellous Linda Bassett, grow up with all kinds of identity crises. One of Mr. Khan's sons, played by former EastEnders actor Jimi Mistry, even comments in horror at one stage that he's 'not gonna marry no fucking Paki...!' This coming from the son of a bona-fide Pakistani immigrant, mind you...

EAST IS EAST mainly focuses on the theme of arranged marriage, which also figures in MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE. Omar is ordered by his Uncle Nasser to marry Nasser's daughter Tania, who's sick and tired of being treated like her father's possession.

Nasser treats his son and his nephew much better than he treats his daughters (the foot massage scene makes my blood boil just a tiny bit, 'fiddle with my toes' indeed...!), his wife and even his mistress, who surely deserves better than just a small occasional share of a fat, middle-aged businessman with wives, kids and business interests coming out his ears. (Don't let me think of his ears, we've already had a close-up look at his feet...!)

And then there's the secret and almost wholly unexpected love between Omar and Johnny. It looks like real intimate love too, the romantic passionate kind, and not just a quick shag in the back-room of the laundrette. The consequences of their forbidden love being found out would be pretty catastrophic. 

Johnny's racist friends would make mincemeat of them, and what about Uncle Nasser and Omar's Papa, who are trying to get Omar safely married off to Tania just to make sure that 'his penis works' after all? It's a fraught and potentially explosive situation. Where will it end? Watch the film and find out, friends. Watch it and find out. xxx

Dual Format Edition (DVD/Blu-ray) release on 21 August 2017 courtesy of the British Film Institute.

BFI releases are available from all good home entertainment retailers or by mail order from the BFI Shop Tel: 020 7815 1350 or online at www.bfi.org.uk/shop

The film is being released as part of the BFI’s activity (from June onwards) to mark the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967. This includes a major two month film and TV season, Gross Indecency, and a one month Joe Orton season at BFI Southbank, a new online BFI Player collection – LGBT Britain on Film, a UK-wide touring programme of archive film and an international touring programme of classic LGBT shorts from directors including Derek Jarman, Isaac Julien and Terence Davies.

Special features
  • Presented in High Definition and Standard Definition
  • 1986 Q&A at the ICA with Stephen Frears, Hanif Kureishi, Sarah Radclyffe and Tim Bevan (1986, 98 mins, audio only)
  • Gordon Warnecke on My Beautiful Laundrette (2015, 25 mins)
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Typically British: A Personal History of British Cinema by Stephen Frears (Michael Dibb & Stephen Frears, 1994, 77 mins): the director’s affectionate exploration of British cinema and the films that influenced him
  • I’m British But… (Gurinder Chadha, 1989, 30 mins): fascinating documentary on what it meant to be a young British Asian in the 1980s from the director of Bend It Like Beckham
  • Memsahib Rita (Prathiba Parma, 1994, 19 mins): a short film starring Nisha Nayar and Meera Syal exploring the physical and emotional violence of racism
  • Illustrated booklet with full film credits and essays by Sarfraz Manzoor, Sukhdev Sandhu, Simran Hans, Michael Brooke and Alex Davidson

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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