Once Upon a Time in the Midlands

Robert Carlyle, Rhys Ifans, Kathy Burke
Directed by Shane Meadows
Running Time: 104 mins
Rated: M

Young British director, Shane Meadows, made an impact with his gritty first feature, Twentyfour. Seven, a story of disaffected youth in his own Midlands and the efforts of a social worker to help them find some meaning in their lives. His second film, A Room for Romeo Brass, rather divided critics, with its portrait of younger teenagers and family disputes and pressures. He is still exploring families in this film but has the advantage of a very strong British cast.

Shirley Henderson is completely credible as a mother in her 30s, separated but now living with a genial and caring motor mechanic, played with surprising restraint and emotion by Rhys Ifans, who acts as a stable factor in the life of her teenage daughter, a fine performance by Finn Aitken. They live quietly in Nottingham, getting on with their reconstructed lives. When they appear on a television interview show with her sister-in-law
and her musician husband, Dek takes the opportunity to propose but Shirley cannot bring herself to accept.

This brings her ex-husband back from Glasgow. Robert Carlyle gives another of is edgy performances, creating an erratic and irritating character, who expects that his merely turning up and turning on the charm (though he fails to realise just how limited this is) will win back wife and daughter.

Meadows is able to write domestic scenes that bristle with tension and emotional confusion. With his strong cast, that includes Kathy Burke and Ricky Tomlinson as the musician, the drama, set in the ordinary streets and homes of Nottingham, evokes recognition in the audience, especially regret that people can get their lives in such tangles.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is the International President of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

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