ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS is a British comedy farce about Jimmy (played by Robert Carlyle), a man who left his family for a life of crime three years earlier. After seeing his ex-wife turn down a surprise marriage proposal on a TV reality show, Jimmy heads to the Midlands to try to win her back. This odd “dramedy” (a story merging elements of comedy and drama) is thoroughly British and may not connect entirely to its American audience, but the important emphasis on family, blended or otherwise, will ring true universally.
Jimmy’s ex-wife, Shirley (delightfully played by Shirley Henderson), lives with her boyfriend Dek (Rhys Ifans), who is reeling from his national humiliation of rejection. Once Jimmy sees Shirley turn down Dek on national television, he concludes that he still has a chance to reunite with his abandoned family. Taking his latest heist money to the suburbs (and followed by his former crime partners he betrayed), he works his way back into Shirley’s emotions and buys gifts for his distant 12-year-old daughter Marlene (Finn Atkins). Will Shirley change Jimmy’s selfish heart? Will she choose the leather-clad roughness and excitement Jimmy offers or stick with her dull but well-intentioned Dek?
Director Shane Meadows takes the opportunity here to make a loving tribute to the American Western. There are many scenes ripped straight from old Westerns. Sure, a cordless power drill may humorously double as a gunfighter’s weapon, but Meadows’ story also is as tough and tender as those simpler times.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS contains much coarse language, several profanities and is rough around the edges, but it is a thoughtful comedy about love, loyalty and family. Actors Robert Carlyle and Shirley Henderson are reunited here from their earlier movie together, TRAINSPOTTING, but, thankfully, this story is not that gritty. Jimmy’s sister, Carol, and her ex-husband, singing British cowboy Charlie, round out the amusing ensemble cast. Shirley, Dek, Carol, and Charlie all live on the same street, share their lives together and each support one another in their tidy but messy blue-collar community. Dek’s betrayal of Charlie isolates him from this loving community, and Jimmy makes his move to steal his family back.
British movies tend to use actors who look and act “real” and place them in equally real settings. It is this glimpse at normal life which many find appealing about foreign films. American movies, on the other hand, typically use beautiful people in predictable plots. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS is not predictable and yet has a modest charm about it. At one point, Jimmy sizes up Dek and surmises that he is not “half a man,” but Dek, in his lovingly dull ways, is a whole father to Marlene and a loving boyfriend to the oft-wounded Shirley.
It is not a neat and tidy story, but ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS is a heartfelt message of hope for broken families. It is sometimes silly, but watching a carload of Brits joyfully sing “Stand By Your Man” almost makes it worth the price of admission. In a surprising twist, Dek shows that he is willing to sacrifice all that is important to him to win his new family back. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS, therefore, is ultimately worthwhile, but requires extreme caution.
Please address your comments to:
Michael Barker, Tom Bernard and Marcie Bloom
Sony Pictures Classics
550 Madison Avenue, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10022
Phone: (212) 833-8833
Web Page: www.spe.sony.com
SUMMARY: ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS is a British comedy farce about Jimmy, a man who left his family for a life of crime three years earlier. After seeing his ex-wife turn down a surprise marriage proposal on a TV reality show, Jimmy heads to the Midlands to try to win her back. This odd “dramedy” is thoroughly British and filled with R-rated language and some coarse humor, but the important emphasis on family will ring true universally.
(H, B, A, LLL, MM, N, Ro, VV) Humanist worldview about a divorced mom and daughter thrown into chaos when the ex-husband shows up which includes slight moral elements with an emphasis that a loving dad may be better than a biological father; 82 obscenities (70 "f" words), 10 profanities, man grabs his crotch, and some flatulence humor; violence includes heist by thieves, mugging and fighting (sometimes slapstick), car accident, and slapping; kissing, brief sexual dialogue, but no sex or female nudity; some cleavage and man shown briefly wearing only a thong; alcohol use; smoking; and, excessive TV watching, theft, and revenge mitigated by theme of loyalty and man admits his mistake about leaving his family.