Stephen Frears was at the forefront of the British cinematic revival of the mid-1980s, and the delightfully transgressive 'My Beautiful Laundrette' is his greatest triumph of the period. Working from a richly layered script by writer Hanif Kureishi, soon to be internationally renowned, Frears tells an uncommon love story that takes place between a young South London Pakistani man (Gordon Warnecke), who decides to open an upscale laundromat to make his family proud, and his childhood friend, a skinhead (Daniel Day-Lewis, in a breakthrough role), who volunteers to help make his dream a reality. This culture-clash comedy is also a subversive work of social realism, which dares to address racism, homophobia, and sociopolitical marginalization in Margaret Thatcher’s England.
Stephen Frears is a director with an amazing body of work, although most people wouldn't be able to tell you anything he's directed. With films like 'The Grifters', and 'Dangerous Liasons', you can already tell he knows what he's doing behind the camera. He is more known for the iconic John Cusack film 'High Fidelity', the recent award winning film 'Philomena', or even 'Dirty Pretty Things'. Needless to say, this is a quite the impressive list of films, all having very different qualities and tones.
But one thing remains constant here, which is Frears' uncanny ability to film his characters so well, that they stay in our lives forever. Well, that and tell an amazing story, no matter how big or small it is. One of Frears' first films was called 'My Beautiful Laundrette', which came out 30 years ago, and was originally made for television, but later converted to a feature film. Currently, the movie has a rare 100% rating still on Rotten Tomatoes and was even nominated for a sole Oscar for Best Screenplay, but lost out to Woody Allen at the time.
In addition to this success, this film marked one of the first films for the multi Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis, and no, he didn't win an Oscar here. 'My Beautiful Laundrette' centers around a young Pakistani man named Omar (Gordon Warnecke), living in south London during the height of Margaret Thatcher's reign of England. Omar's father wants him to go to university to get a good education and a great job, rather than working dead end jobs, however Omar takes a shining to his uncle Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey), who runs a few businesses, but isn't the best person to look up to, due to his infidelity. Uncle Nasser offers Omar to run a local laundry mat he owns and restore it to make a decent profit.
As Omar is working at the laundry mat, he comes across an old friend he hasn't seen in years named Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis), a local skinhead now and part of a gang. The two instantly reconnect and hit it off and form a passionate relationship. Omar even has Johnny help with fixing up and running the laundry mat, much to the disrespect of Johnny's fellow gang members and Nasser's business associate, who happens to be a drug runner. It's a simple story really, but it's also a very honest and convincing portrayal of two friends and lovers in a time, where it wasn't really permitted, due to the social and political views of government and the people.
This story that tackles homosexuality, racism, and opposing political views is actually told through a light-hearted voice. Even though there is a bit of violence in the movie, it is often comical and heart warming, due to the phenomenal relationship between Johnny and Omar. I also believe that Frears wanted to showcase not only what race, religion, and sexual preference did to one another in the form of treating others with respect or lack thereof, but also the financial situations of people of this time, that allowed them to discriminate against their fellow neighbors.
It's an amazing, yet simple story, one that would be hard to replicate in today's world. Daniel Day-Lewis is of course excellent in his role, and his relationship with Warnecke is completely believable. It's a shame those two weren't nominated for acting awards. 'My Beautiful Laundrette' is one film you won't soon forget.
'My Beautiful Laundrette' comes with an amazing 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.66:1 aspect ratio. It all looks just fantastic. According to Criterion, this is a new digital transfer that was supervised by the director of photography Oliver Stapleton. It was created in 2K resolution from the 16mm original camera negative. Most of the dirt, debris, and scratches were manually removed as well as most of the video noise.
This film is 30 years old and was shot on 16mm, but Criterion has given this an amazing upgrade, technically speaking, while keeping the film's natural look. The detail is sharp and vivid, specifically in the well-lit scenes. When there are lower lit moments, the detail fluctuates a tiny bit, but is not that noticeable. Closeups reveal excellent facial features and fine textures in the clothing. Wider shots do not get softer either, providing some great depth throughout. The look of London simply looks great here. Colors have been fixed from the previous releases as well, and now looks bold and striking.
They definitely pop off screen and are very well balanced and saturated. Black levels are deep and inky and the skin tones are always natural. There is a nice layer of grain as well, keeping with the film's natural filmic state as well. There were no problems with dirt or debris either, or any other major compression issues, leaving this Criterion video presentation with top marks.
This release comes with a great LPCM 1.0 mono audio mix. I wish there was an option for a stereo mix or even a 5.1 mix to be fully immersed in London and inside the laundry business, but Criterion usually doesn't add audio options. There really isn't much to this audio presentation. Sound effects are realistic, but never loud or lively. Dialogue though is crystal clear and easy to follow at all times.
It's layered enough as well, to give these voices enough depth. The score by Ludus Tonalis also sounds very good as it always adds to the tone of the film. There were no pops, cracks, hiss, or shrills to note either. Don't expect a very loud sound full of explosions or action sequences. This is a dialogue driven film, and it does a great job at that.
Interview with Stephen Frears (HD, 34 Mins.) - This great interview with Stephen Frears was made in 2015, and has the director discussing his life, career, and business relationships. He also talks about his work this film and it's tone, themes, and characters. He also relates it to the social and political climate in London. Excellent interview.
Interview with Hanif Kureishi (HD, 17 Mins.) - This interview was also filmed in 2015 for Criterion, and has the writer talk about his life in London, the role Margaret Thatcher played in this screenplay, casting the actors, and working on the film. Great interview.
Interview with Tim Bevan and Sarah Radclyffe (HD, 23 Mins.) - Again, this was film for Criterion in 2015. Producers Tim and Sarah talk about their work on the film, meeting Frears and working with him, as well as their future career after the release of 'My Beautiful Laundrette'.
Interview with Oliver Stapleton (HD, 21 Mins.) - Yet another interview from 2015, this time with the director of photography, as he discusses working with Frears on all the films they have made together, including this one.
Trailer (HD, 3 Mins.) - Trailer for the film.
Criterion Booklet - An illustrated booklet that provides, cast and crew information as well as an essay by Graham Fuller.
'My Beautiful Laundrette' is an amazing little film that mixes a bit of comedy with a heart warming message about relationships in the middle of a chaotic atmosphere of inequality and discrimination in South London. The performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and Gordon Warnecke are flawless. Director Stephen Frears certainly had a grasp on filmmaking and character early in his career, and its very evident with this film. The video presentation is excellent, and even though the audio mix is in mono, it still gets the job done. The interviews here are fantasatic and all worth watching, however I wish there was an interview with Day-Lewis here. That being said, Criterion has knocked this release out of the park and is definitely worth picking up.