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Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2003)

Once Upon a Time in the Midlands


Average Rating: 5.6/10
Reviews Counted: 75
Fresh: 38
Rotten: 37

Critics Consensus: Though the concept is interesting and quirky, the drama fails to deliver.

Average Rating: 5.7/10
Reviews Counted: 28
Fresh: 17
Rotten: 11

Critics Consensus: Though the concept is interesting and quirky, the drama fails to deliver.


Average Rating: 3.1/5
User Ratings: 3,530


Movie Info

Shane Meadows directed this film, which is the third and final chapter in his Nottingham Trilogy which also includes 1999's A Room for Romeo Brass and 1997's Twentyfourseven. Starring The Full Monty's Robert Carlyle, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands is a twist on the traditional Western film, transplanting the action to modern-day Nottingham, England. Jimmy (Carlyle) is a small-time criminal who comes back into town after seeing his old girlfriend turn down a marriage proposal on television. … More

R (for language)
Drama , Comedy
Directed By:
Written By:
Shane Meadows , Paul Fraser
In Theaters:
Feb 10, 2004
Sony Pictures Classics - Official Site


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Critic Reviews for Once Upon a Time in the Midlands

All Critics (86) | Top Critics (31) | Fresh (38) | Rotten (37) | DVD (7)

The family dynamics are intriguing, and the performances mildly diverting.

October 10, 2003
Orlando Sentinel
Top Critic

What Leone did for cowboys and crime, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands does for a more contemporary genre.

Full Review… | October 10, 2003
Detroit Free Press
Top Critic

Some strong performances make it go by fairly painlessly, but inconsistencies involving plot and character keep it from ever being more than marginally involving.

October 9, 2003
Arizona Republic
Top Critic

Largely unintelligible romantic comedy about a couple of annoying losers and their personality-free love interest.

Full Review… | October 9, 2003
Miami Herald
Top Critic

The movie is so busy being quirky that it's hard to relate to it.

Full Review… | October 2, 2003
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Top Critic

A little tedious to sit through.

September 26, 2003
Washington Post
Top Critic

Like a Mike Leigh film on steroids, situations don't dawn slowly on these characters, they come crashing down on their heads.

Full Review… | May 5, 2010
East Bay Express

The title and the music suggest a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, but the setting and characters would be more at home in a Mike Leigh film.

Full Review… | April 14, 2005
Reel Times: Reflections on Cinema

...a wry and likable movie that contents itself with the petty concerns, complications and conflicts that compose modern life.

Full Review… | January 29, 2005
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Clever and generally successful attempt to present a British domestic drama with comedic overtones, all in the style of a Sergio Leone western.

Full Review… | December 8, 2004
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

The top-notch cast makes this movie work. Carlyle is born to play the hard-to-resist rogue, and Henderson conveys a sexy vulnerability ...

Full Review… | April 1, 2004

Once Upon a Time in the Midlands gets off some rapid-fire comic shots. . . . a daffy, charm-your-pants-off kitchen-sink comedy.

January 16, 2004
Vue Weekly (Edmonton, Canada)

In the end, Meadows' film lacks the bite it needs to make us care about this oddball trio, endearing though they are.

Full Review… | November 16, 2003
Austin Chronicle

Put in Shirley's shoes, most women would be hunting around for a Door Number 3, and that's where Midlands ultimately fails to connect.

Full Review… | October 31, 2003
Capital Times (Madison, WI)

The cast fleshes out Meadows' thin storyline with some comically rich character work.

Full Review… | October 24, 2003
Orlando Weekly

It's safe to say that Leone has never in his career made anything as goofy -- or as sweet -- as this comedy.

Full Review… | October 17, 2003
Deseret News, Salt Lake City

Only Ifans, with his hangdog expressions and dithering double-talk, generates any laughs or sympathy.

Full Review… | October 17, 2003
Salt Lake Tribune

It's never as funny as we'd like, and the characters seem too cartoony to hook us.

Full Review… | October 10, 2003
Kansas City Star

At its best, the new film by Shane Meadows suggests works by British social realist Ken Loach and Scottish social satirist Bill Forsyth, with a through-line from Mike Leigh's dysfunctional family tale Life Is Sweet.

October 9, 2003
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Once Upon a Time in the Midlands has great comic potential but misses the mark.

Full Review… | October 9, 2003
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

A weak concept with a weak script where even great actors can't seem to rise above the mediocrity surrounding them.

Full Review… | October 6, 2003

Audience Reviews for Once Upon a Time in the Midlands

Shane Meadows is without doubt, one of the best British directors around at present. He knows his way around the working class lifestyle of Britain with a welcome and refreshing outlook that has, until his arrival, been commandeered by the likes of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh.
Waking up in a drunken haze Glaswegian crook Jimmy (Robert Carlyle) sees his ex, Shirley (Shirley Henderson), being proposed to on a daytime TV chat show. She spurns the proposal of Dek (Rhys Ifans) live on air, leading Jimmy to head back to his old town to claim back Shirley and his young daughter (Finn Atkins), that he left behind years ago.
After "TwentyFourSeven" and "A Room for Romeo Brass", this completes Shane Meadows' so called 'midlands trilogy' and with the actors involved, this has an abundance of quality. Despite this though, it's the weakest of the trilogy. That's not to say that there's nothing to enjoy, there is, and its plentiful. It just seems a bit too lighthearted in comparison with Meadows' other films. The excellent actors involved put in fine performances. Ifans and particularly Carlyle are two of the best in the business; Henderson is one of the most underated of actresses, deserving of far more attention and adding Kathy Burke and Ricky Tomlinson for some mild comic relief is always welcome. However, with this undoubted talent onscreen, it only makes it more frustrating that they aren't pushed to the extent that they're capable of. I suppose this is down to Meadows prefering a more humourous approach and if you're aware of this beforehand then you might not feel as disappointed with the lack of danger that he normally applies to certain characters. His use of a spaghetti western theme throughout a 'kitchen-sink' family drama is a wonderful touch though.
A good little comedy/drama that certainly entertains but it lacks any real emotional punch and should have made more of the fine ensemble of actors. Meadows' most impressive cast, yet strangely, one of his least impressive films.

Mark Walker

Super Reviewer

Been waiting for a while to watch this and found it hard to get hold of. You can certainly see the 'Shane Meadows' stamp on this one, but in comparrison to his other films, it doesn't quite measure up. Meadows himself, is pretty aware of this, as he has spoken of this in interviews.

That being said, it's a light entertaining film with some great British actors and although that worked to a certain degree, Meadows talent lies in being able to pick fresh talent/untrained actors creating a gritty life-like situation. This was more of a 'roughed up rom-com'

I did like the use of the talk show though, which strangely hasn't been used in any films that I am aware of.

Lady D'arbanville

Super Reviewer


I can understand why Shane Meadows might not have too many fond memories of once upon a time, he had lots of problems with the producers who tried to mould him and pigeon-hole his film in the same category as The Full Monty and other worthless British disasters of recent history. I think the process has been beneficial to him though, it made a great director greater in my mind and as far as Once Upon a Time in the Midlands is concerned, it's just a few obvious flaws short of being a classic. I can totally see Shane Meadows intentions and I think he did brilliantly, this is a lovely film, miss it at your own peril!

Anthony Lawrie

Super Reviewer

A different film from Shane Meadows. A nice little story that definitely strays from his usual dark story lines. Overall all though I'm always looking foward to a Shane Meadows film

Keith Munley

Super Reviewer

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