My Beautiful Laundrette is one of the best of Stephen Frears’ realistic, gritty, and character-driven films about the London working class, a melting pot of different races, cultures, and ideologies coexisting within a dog-eat-dog world where everyone tries to get to the next level in socioeconomic status. These films are about the people many never notice. As one of the working class characters say in 2002’s Dirty Pretty Things, "We are the people you don’t see. We’re the ones who drive your cabs, clean your rooms, and suck your c---s".
With these films, Frears brings these underrepresented stories to the forefront with as much honesty and empathy as possible. Filmmakers like him and Ken Loach are interested in direct depictions of the day-to-day lives of the English downtrodden while providing an interesting continuation of the Italian Neorealist movement.
My Beautiful Laundrette is about Omar (Gordon Warnecke), a gay Brit with Pakistani origins who’s stuck between the two cultures while he tries to accomplish the new British capitalist dream of the Thatcher era; making as much money as he can as he uses his laundrette as a front to sell drugs.
Even though it’s an intimately personal story on the surface, the indictment of the selfish and xenophobic ideals of the conservative Thatcher era (The film was made in 1985, smack dab in the middle of Thatcher’s rule) by screenwriter Hanif Kureishi covers every inch of this film. One of the most powerful scenes shows Omar’s unapologetically capitalist uncle Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey) kicking a Pakistani artist and socialist from his apartment stating that he’s a businessman, not a "Pakistani" businessman.
Nasser and Omar strive to make good on Thatcher’s ideals of making it big through sheer ambition and good old British moxie, but the racism and xenophobia that was fueled by the same administration make their lives a living hell as a group of skinheads try to sabotage Omar’s business at every opportunity because they don’t want any "Pakis" in the neighborhood.
Daniel Day-Lewis played Omar’s feisty ex-skinhead lover. This performance and his completely different role in A Room With a View from the same year proved his vast versatility as an actor and boosted his career to stardom. Passionate and boisterous, Day-Lewis is certainly the breakout part in My Beautiful Laundrette, but the film would not have been as memorable if it didn’t contain such natural and endearing performances from the entire cast as a whole.
As with his other similar projects, Frears uses a grainy and gritty documentary style in order to keep the focus as much on the characters and performances as possible. I watched My Beautiful Laundrette on a gorgeous Criterion Collection Blu-ray transfer and as usual, the good folks at Criterion did a bang-up job transferring the material to beautiful and crisp HD. The 1080p transfer has astounding definition without giving away the natural grainy look of the film. Short of a theatrical screening, this is as close as you’ll get to the real experience.
The extras include brand new and extensive interviews with Frears, Kureishi, producers Tim Bevan and Sarah Radcliffe, as well as DP Oliver Stapleton. These interviews are essential in understanding the film’s production process, as well as the way it relates to the sociopolitical climate of the era. The disc is a must-buy for any fan of the film.