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Once Upon a Time in the Midlands

1 rating: -1.0
A movie directed by Shane Meadows

A British family drama with a Western flare, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS starts out as a chaotic comedy of familial dysfunction and then changes into an emotional tale of love and loss. At the story's core is a love triangle between Shirley (Shirley … see full wiki

Tags: Movies, Dramas
Director: Shane Meadows
Release Date: 2003
MPAA Rating: R
1 review about Once Upon a Time in the Midlands

A Pot Noodle Western

  • Apr 1, 2004
Pros: acting, some funny parts, accents

Cons: story, formulaic, hard to understand Carlyle

The Bottom Line: Are you sure you wanna live like common people?

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.

Most of my friends are notoriously indecisive, and I’ve spent hours with them in video stores trying to decide what to rent. Last night, a friend and I had to make a quick choice since we had only seven minutes remaining on the parking meter, and we both had to pee. So, we chose the first movie we found that looked even mildly entertaining.

If you are even slightly offended by the reference to a bodily function in the above paragraph, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands is probably not for you. It’s crude and sloppy at times but, ultimately, formulaic and clich├ęd.

Jimmy (Robert Carlyle, looking alarmingly like Steve Perry of Journey) wakes up to a Jerry Springer-style daytime talk show featuring his foster sister Carol (Katy Burke), her country music obsessed husband Charlie (Ricky Tomlinson), and his former girlfriend Shirley (Shirley Henderson) with whom he has a child. Shirley’s sweet but wimpy boyfriend Dek (Rhys Ifans) surprises her by proposing marriage on national television, but Shirley turns him down. Jimmy, a small-time criminal, sees this as an opportunity to re-enter Shirley’s life. Following the Western mold, complete with twangy music, Jimmy decides to waltz back into the Nottingham town where Shirley lives and win her back.

Accent fans will have a field day with this movie, which features a Glaswegian (Carlyle), a Scouser (Tomlinson), a Cockney (Burke), and a Welshman (Ifans). While I didn’t have problems with Henderson’s Scottish accent, Carlyle’s will be incomprehensible at times for most viewers, including me. Although the plot is bland, this isn’t a light movie since it takes a lot of concentration to figure out what the characters are saying. Fortunately, even if you miss half the dialogue, you will still be able to determine what’s going on since the story has approximately the same depth as a soap opera.

The duel between “the Welsh w*nker,”as Dek is dubbed by his adversary, and rough Scotsman Jimmy dominates the film. Ifans is at his best when he expresses fear of the Scottish hooligans who are after Jimmy for stealing their money. A van decorated with Scottish football flags pulls up in front of Dek’s house, and the look on his face tells us that this is his worst nightmare. Dek cowers in a bathroom cabinet and then under the bed. When the rogues find him, he begs, “Please, don’t do anything sexual!”

Camden-born Burke’s Carol is hilarious at times, but she eventually becomes irritating. However, I loved the scene where she and Shirley are recognized at the local bingo hall for being on the telly, and Carol tells off a nosy woman by calling her a “swamp monster.” Tomlinson’s Charlie, on the other hand, is one-note and not funny at all.

While Once Upon a Time in the Midlands has a few comic moments, the jokes get old. For instance, the image of Charlie playing the guitar on the toilet surrounded by stacks of Pot Noodle is funny the first time but felt unnecessary the second and third. The hooligans are supposed to be humorous characters, but I just found them ugly. Besides, they get in a fight with a group of clowns, which, in my opinion, is just a sign that writer/director Shane Meadows is trying too hard.

The snore-worthy love triangle was frustrating, and it was hard to have sympathy for Shirley since Dek is so sweet, and her 12-year-old daughter Marlene (the adorable Finn Atkins) loves him, while Jimmy is unreliable and nasty.

The chaotic opening scene of family life at Shirley and Dek’s crowded house made me think that Once Upon a Time in the Midlands was going to be a darkly comical portrayal of the life of common people in Nottingham, but it quickly deteriorated into a familiar formula. The only thing that saves it from being a one-star film is the excellent acting and the lovable Dek and Marlene. Shirley is sweet but self-destructively immature, and I found her high-pitched voice annoying.

The title indicates that Meadows is alluding to the “spaghetti western” school of filmmaking. In fact, the tag line is, "A tinned spaghetti western," which is, admittedly, quite clever. Thankfully, Meadows omits much of the violence that typify these films. However, in its place, we have boring, romantic comedy conventions. The fighting that does occur is mainly meant to be amusing, and we don’t see any guns, unless you count Dek’s posturing with a power drill.

Sometimes, paying homage to a genre means you’re just too lazy to come up with something original and can’t be bothered to maintain realism.


Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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