Once Upon a Time in the Midlands
With echoing hoofbeats, harmonicas, and far-off whistles, this film's opening evokes a Sergio Leone Western, but is set in Nottingham, in the British Midlands, with lovable working-class characters in love, loss, revenge, being clowns, and playing country-Western music.
On the U.K.'s version of The Jerry Springer Show, the love-struck Dek (Ifans) proposes to his longtime live-in lover, Shirley (Henderson). To his shock, she turns him down. Her ex-husband Jimmy (Carlyle) is watching, during a visit to their little town; he's hiding after a botched stick-up. He confronts Shirley with a classic Western choice: the respectable shopkeeper or the wandering gunslinger.
Dek and Shirley live with Marlene (Atkins), who's Jimmy's daughter, so Jimmy can re-enter their lives, saying he wants to see her. He rekindles in Shirley the excitement she once felt around him - a dangerous, unpredictable man. Dek, at his shop, the Clutch Hutch, fantasizes about a showdown with Jimmy, as he poses with his weapon - a power drill.
Shirley and Dek's extended family include two best friends left over from her marriage. Carol (Burke), Jimmy's foster sister, a loud woman who leaps across a room at a man in his recliner, and her husband Charlie (Tomlinson), a would-be C-&-W singer. Shirley tentatively decides to let Jimmy back into her life. Gentle Dek is devastated by being turned down on national TV, and about prepared to surrender, since Shirley obviously doesn't love him. But her daughter Marlene does. To her, Dek is her father, which leads to surprising tenderness.
The botched robbery involves clowns and a Morris Mini, and would almost break the spell except that we can think the characters are apt to pull off something like that. There's an undertone of danger with Jimmy, who can be charming, then turn mean in a moment.((Rhys Ifans is key. He can play peculiar, but here he plays normal - a guy who doubts himself so much that, if Shirley won't marry him, she must be right. The title and music suggest that even Nottingham can have showdowns between good and evil, and that a loser can learn to stand up like a man.
Paul Fraser and Shane Meadows
Robert Carlyle, Rhys Ifans, Kathy Burke, Ricky Tomlinson, Shirley Henderson, Finn Atkins
Family comedy; man learns to respect himself
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