Dirty Pretty Things (2003)

Dirty Pretty Things



Critic Consensus: An illuminating and nuanced film about the exploitation of illegal immigrants.

Movie Info

Okwe, a kind-hearted Nigerian doctor, and Senay, a Turkish chambermaid, work at the same West London hotel. The hotel is run by Senor "Sneaky" and is the sort of place where "dirty business" like drug dealing and prostitution takes place. However, when Okwe finds a human heart in one of the toilets, he uncovers something far more sinister than just a common crime.

Rating: R (for sexual content, disturbing images and language)
Genre: Drama , Art House & International , Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
Written By: Steven Knight
In Theaters:
On DVD: Mar 23, 2004
Box Office: $8.0M
Miramax Films - Official Site


as Asian Businessman

as Mini Cab Driver

as Mini Cab Driver

as Mini Cab Driver

as Mini Cab Driver

as Cab Controller

as Cafe Owner

as Immigration Officer

as Shinti's Son]

as Hospital Cleaning La...

as Pharmacy Nurse

as Pharmacist

as Shinti's Daughter-in...

as Shinti's Granddaught...

as Sweatshop Foreman

as Sweatshop Boy

as Factory Worker

as German Woman
Show More Cast

Friend Ratings

No Friends? Inconceivable! Log in to see what your friends have to say.


Critic Reviews for Dirty Pretty Things

All Critics (144) | Top Critics (42)

An intelligent and extremely well-made romantic drama that tells an intriguing story with economy and insight.

Full Review… | November 27, 2007
Top Critic

An impressive mix of entertainment and social comment, spinning a great mystery even as it confronts an ugly world.

Full Review… | November 27, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

A sympathetic, engaging and politically astute slice of modern urban realism, set in the twilight world of London's community of recent immigrants and asylum seekers, and directed with Frears' habitual professionalism and sensitivity.

Full Review… | January 26, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Although Steve Knight's Oscar-nominated script gets a bit on the nose discussing those who pretty that which we dirty, it tells a compelling tale of perseverance, with a final sound effect like hope gaining altitude.

Full Review… | September 25, 2010

Here he strikes a perfect balance between social commentary and melodrama, while nudging his actors to turn potentially stereotypical figures (eg, a virginal waif, a golden-hearted whore, a philosophical Chinese) into three-dimensional people.

Full Review… | November 27, 2007
Observer [UK]

Dirty Pretty Things benefits from the best script...hands down, written for a movie released in 2003

Full Review… | August 21, 2006
Cinema Writer

Audience Reviews for Dirty Pretty Things

Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a Nigerian illegal immigrant in London. This brooding man drives a taxi by day and works as a porter at a plush hotel in London by night. He supposedly never sleeps and chews on some kind of leaves to keep himself awake. He is a kind man; popular and well-loved amongst fellow immigrants who live a hand-to-mouth existence in the city doing odd jobs as custodians, cleaners, cooks, cabbies. Okwe also helps out his friends and other poor immigrants with their ailments; apparently he has some history working as a doctor in his home country!


Okwe has an arrangement with another illegal immigrant, a shy, Turkish woman named Senay (Audrey Tautou), wherein he uses her couch in her small room to catch a few winks during morning time when she reports to work in the same hotel he works in. He also likes Senay and she likes him but nothing has been said yet. Senay is too reserved and shy and fears the neighbours. She does not want to attract unwanted attention, especially from nosey gossipers! Any wrong move can lead to her deportation; the immigration officials are already harassing her.

A dramatic change of events occurs one day and it sets off a series of episodes that threaten to change the lives of Okwe and Senay forever. A prostitute Juliette (Sophie Okonedo) asks Okwe to check a room she has been in. Okwe inspects the room and finds that the toilet bowl is blocked and overflowing. He is shocked to discover that the cause of the blockage is a human heart stuck in the pipes! The Spanish night manager Senor "Sneaky" Juan (Sergi Lopez) seems to be well aware and tries to bribe Okwe to keep his mouth shut. Okwe gradually discovers that there is something sinister and "dirty" beneath the "pretty" hotel exterior.


"Dirty Pretty Things" is a tale about dreams. It is about those countless immigrants who dream of making a better living in a rich, developed country; of having the kind of life and freedom they could never have in their home countries. It is about how they would give their eye and teeth to have a legal status! Survival is on the knife's edge as is the case for any illegal immigrant in a big city, who wants to 'escape' to paradise. Steven Knight's screenplay is refreshingly original, barring some minor clichéd characterization and blatant racial stereotyping which prove to be the glitches in an otherwise superb work of writing (It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay). Stephen Frears turns Knight's script into an intriguing thriller, that's also a gut-wrenchingly potent drama centered around illegal immigrants in London.


The story is told in a crisp fashion with some beautiful cinematography and commendable shot composition, and the preliminary scenario is established rather quickly but doesn't seem hurried or forced in any way. It hardly takes any time for the plot to take off which works in the film's favour. The character of Okwe quickly strikes a chord with the audiences, with most of the first few minutes revolving around him and his deeds. What doesn't work is how most characters (including Okwe, to some extent) are instantly recognizable as either "good" or "bad" or "kind" or "unkind" and don't deviate from these traits of theirs! Okwe, for example, is shown to be such an impossibly noble and kind soul that you can't possibly think he can harm anyone. On the other hand there's 'Sneaky' Juan, who is like the ultimate personification of 'slimy', staring you in the face! Some lines of dialog including some oozing racial stereotyping are just too blatantly rude to be taken seriously.


And then there are some character clichés like the helpful buddy (Guo, an Asian man who works at the hospital mortuary), the hooker with a heart of gold (Juliette), Senay's fat and horny old immigrant employer (Barber Ali, a sweatshop foreman) who not-surprisingly asks her for sexual favours in return for not revealing her identity or whereabouts to the hot on the trail immigration officials.. ! Hand it to the filmmaker and the actors though, that despite these clichés, the viewer ultimately ends up rooting for them anyway! Audrey Tautou is in fact miscast as a Turkish woman, and although one really wonders why someone from Turkey would have to go through all the tough ordeals to secure a status for themselves in London, she delivers a kind of performance that you can't overlook and can't help but applaud. Senay's predicament and her dealing with the whole situation is pulled off in a sincere effort by Tautou. Ditto for Sergi Lopez as the crooked hotel manager who has something dirty up his sleeve. The guy is despicable to say the least and portrays his one-dimensional character in an extremely convincing manner.

But the big winner in the performances department is of course, Chiwetel Ejiofor, as Okwe. His character is written in a manner which will surely evoke great empathy. Ejiofor makes the character his own and steals the show from right under everyone's noses with a fabulous performance and manages to instantly connect with the viewer. He is a helpful, kind, selfless man but you very much know that he has a great sadness about him. It is a brilliant portrayal of a tortured soul; an epitome of self-sacrifice.

It is worthwhile to check out Stephen Frears' "Dirty Pretty Things". While it may not be perfect, it is a fine work of cinema that is gripping as well as emotionally affecting and will keep you hooked 'til it reaches its bittersweet conclusion.

Score: 8/10.


Aditya Gokhale
Aditya Gokhale

Super Reviewer

Another one of those excellent movies that got by me when they first came out. Chiwetel Ejifor plays an excellent part and his acting is way under rated. Film is about illegal immigrants in London and what they have to do in order to live. Okwe was a doctor back in Africa and is now a cab driver and hotel clerk who everyone comes to for help. The hotel owner is moving body parts he takes immigrants and provides them with false papers for a body part. 5 stars

Bruce Bruce

Super Reviewer

Over a career spanning 40 years, Stephen Frears has demonstrated versatility in his filmmaking rivalled only by Alan Parker and Ridley Scott. His directorial stamp is so subtle that you would have difficulty convincing the casual viewer that Dangerous Liaisons and High Fidelity were directed by the same man. With Dirty Pretty Things he returns to the gritty territory of My Beautiful Laundrette, and delivers what is possibly his finest film.

It's all too common for a film to boast about its 'gritty realism', with most such boasting being a hopeless cover for a preposterous storyline or sub-par shooting style. But even if Dirty Pretty Things felt the need to boast about such things, there would be no need for it. The world which Frears creates is so readily and shockingly believable that we don't need constant reminders that we are seeing might actually be based on fact.

Like much of his 1980s work, Dirty Pretty Things has an unassuming visual style. Chris Menges, who has worked with Frears extensively since Gumshoe, lights London completely naturalistically, with no effort made to glamorise the characters' surroundings or gloss over the dingier aspects of London. This is not a film which takes on a pertinent and sensitive subject only to hand it with kid gloves: it is frequently painful to watch, but in a way which is ultimately vindicated.

Dirty Pretty Things is about the British underclass of illegal immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, who come over in their thousands ever year to do the jobs that no-one else will do. Though the film is nearly ten years old, the political issues it raises are still big hot potatoes; rarely a week goes by without the Daily Mail bursting blood vessels over immigration numbers or benefit cheats. But the film is layered and nuanced enough to make xenophobe reconsider, or at least to admit how lucky they are.

The central point of the film is that a capitalist society cannot function without an underclass of cheap labour which can be readily exploited. Whether they're driving taxis or cleaning toilets, the people in this underclass live virtually hand-to-mouth with no proper rights and no chance of police protection. They exist in a limbo state where the only choice is survival, by any means and at any cost.

Throughout the film several characters sell or attempt to sell one of their kidneys to Signor Juan (Sergi Lopez) in exchange for that most coveted of items, a British passport. This storyline allows the film to explore the workings of the black economy, again without either glamorising or outright condemning its participants. Signor Juan is presented as equally a monster and a twisted entrepreneur: as he says, "I'm an evil man, and yet I am saving a life." He is fulfilling the capitalist dream by making something of himself and earning money, but his success comes at the expense of innocent people who have no form of defence, legal or otherwise.

If Steven Knight's screenplay wasn't so adept at constructing characters, Dirty Pretty Things would quickly descend into melodramatic hogwash. Instead, the film is a screenwriting triumph, with Knight thoroughly deserving his Oscar nod. On the one hand, there are attempts made to differentiate between the different aspects or layers of the underclass: Okwe is an illegal immigrant, Senay is seeking asylum, and Guo Yi is an employed refugee. By showing their different circumstances and levels of security, the film avoids the trap of caricaturing the underclass as something to be pitied, and hence it never risks us losing trust in the story.

On the other hand, Knight's screenplay constantly resists becoming too generic. The storyline contains a number of mystery or thriller elements, with Chiwitel Ejiofor's sleepless protagonist bringing something of a film noir feel. But neither Frears nor Knight ever feel the need to crowbar the characters into an existing mould. Sophie Okonedo's prostitute may be pleasant, but she's not a hooker with a heart of gold.

The story of Dirty Pretty Things unfolds very economically, with a perfect sense of pacing which allows the characters to develop of their own accord. By setting most of the action in and around a hotel, we get a microcosmic view of the issues, so that the ideas never get so broad that they drown out the characters. For all the time you spend soaking up the political implications of their actions, you are mainly and constantly interested in the protagonists and whether or not they will survive the increasing number of ordeals put before them.

Because it treats its subject so honestly and truthfully (without being earnest or worthy), there are a number of scenes in Dirty Pretty Things which are uncomfortable to watch. One of the first scenes finds Okwe finding a human heart lodged in the u-bend of a toilet, a sight that will turn many a stomach. The surgical scenes are appropriately gruesome, producing the desired reaction of revulsion without feeling like they were just included for shock value.

Alongside this, however, the film is very good at catching us off guard at certain moments. There are several scenes where the story threatens to slip into cliché, only for the camera to cut and reveal something which sheds new light on what is happening. When Okwe first goes into the back room of the cab office, he is asked to get down on his knees. We think he is about to provide the man with oral sex, but it later emerges that he was a doctor examining him for venereal disease.

In a similar sequence, Senay is working in a sweatshop and asked to perform said act on the manager in return for keeping her on after the police have raided. Audrey Tautou sinks out of shot and the camera zooms in on the manager's face, which turns to a grimace after he is bitten. The recurring image of presumed oral sex could be seen as a metaphor for the position and status of illegal immigrants. On the surface we are the ones being pleasured and in control, when in fact they have at least as much influence, and we have no means of responding should the relationship break down.

This latter scene also hints at the presence of humour in the film. Rather than going down the route of being admirably grim, Frears acknowledges that the characters would use humour to get through their experiences. It is not a comedy, but there are a few moments which provoke a light chuckle, which in turn provides much by way of context and pathos. One such moment finds Senay eating a stew Okwe has cooked, and he remarks, "you can do many things with pork". Senay stops eating, being a Muslim and therefore forbidden to eat pork, and Owke continues, "of course, I used lamb."

The performances in Dirty Pretty Things are all first-rate. Sergi Lopez, best known for his role in Pan's Labyrinth, brings a sneering, snooty quality to the character while never slipping into pantomime. Audrey Tautou proves her range as an actress, giving a layered and subtle performance on a par with her work in Amelie. And Chiwitel Ejiofor is terrific, delivering every line with the right balance of conviction and nervous apprehension.

Dirty Pretty Things is one of Frears' finest efforts as a filmmaker and remains of the best films of the decade. Its intelligent handling of a difficult subject matter is complimented by its versatile treatment of its characters, culminating in an ending which is both valedictory and heart-breaking. On the basis of his subsequent output (Mrs. Henderson Presents, Cheri, Tamara Drewe), it may turn out to be the last great film Frears ever makes. But that cannot tarnish a remarkable viewing experience which has stood the test of time and will continue to do so.

Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

Dirty Pretty Things Quotes

– Submitted by Frances H (2 years ago)
– Submitted by Chad E (3 years ago)
– Submitted by Chad E (3 years ago)

Discussion Forum

Discuss Dirty Pretty Things on our Movie forum!