My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

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Critic Consensus: My Beautiful Laundrette is fast and all over the place because it has so much to say, and show, including a highly watchable fresh-faced Daniel Day-Lewis.

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Movie Info

After the death of his wife and his subsequent descent into alcoholic near-agoraphobia, a crotchety Pakistani intellectual convinces his shady entrepreneur brother to provide work for his son in this multi-layered portrait of the immigrant experience in Great Britain. Young Londoner Omar (Gordon Warnecke) isn't sure what he wants out of life, but his uncle Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey) provides a corrupt, capitalist role model as Omar graduates from washing cars for the old crook to running his run-down laundromat. After a chance meeting with Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis), an old school chum whose flirtation with fascism deeply wounded Omar's principled Papa (Roshan Seth), Omar hires the young thug to work for him. Soon, the pair begin a romantic relationship that remains as under wraps as the illicit drug-running and enforcement work they perform for Nasser's associate, Salim (Derrick Branche). On the domestic front, Omar must balance his knowledge of Nasser's long-running affair with posh Brit Rachel (Shirley Ann Field) with his own loyalty and attraction to Nasser's westernized daughter, Tania (Rita Wolf). After successfully transforming his laundrette into a vision of resplendent pastel suds and providing a bright spot in his otherwise squalid London neighborhood, Omar seems to have a bright future in Nasser's organization. The spectre of Johnny's past, however, combines with Omar's conflicted immigrant loyalties to threaten the sense of identity the young man has managed to stake out for himself. British-born, half-Pakistani playwright and novelist Hanif Kureishi won an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for My Beautiful Laundrette, which was originally filmed for BBC television. Kureishi collaborated again with director Stephen Frears on Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. ~ Brian J. Dillard, Rovi

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Cast

Rita Wolf
as Tania
Winston Graham
as Jamaican One
Dudley Thomas
as Jamaican Two
Garry Cooper
as Squatter
Souad Faress
as Cherry, Salim's Wife
Walter Donahue
as dick O'donnell
Persis Marvala
as Nasser's Elder Daughter
Nisha Kapur
as Nasser's Younger Daughter
Neil Cunningham
as Englishman
Walter Donohue
as Dick O'Donnell
Dulice Leicier
as Girl in Disco
Dawn Archibald
as Gang Member
Jonathan Moore
as Gang Member
Gerard Horan
as Telephone Man
Sira
as Gurdial/Zaki
Colin Campbell
as `Madame Butterfly' Man
Sheila Chitnis
as Zaki's Wife
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Critic Reviews for My Beautiful Laundrette

All Critics (37) | Top Critics (10)

"My Beautiful Laundrette" is quirky and fresh and ambitious and pretty much everything a movie should be, except good.

Jan 3, 2018 | Full Review…

It's Daniel Day Lewis, taut, intelligent, erotic, who is an emerging star.

May 13, 2013 | Rating: 4.5/5 | Full Review…

Fast, bold, harsh and primitive like a prodigious student film with equal parts promise and threat.

May 13, 2013 | Full Review…

This is a uniquely plausible portrait of life in England, yet its appeal isn't limited to social realism -- it also has a twist of buoyant fantasy and romance

May 13, 2013 | Full Review…

This new British picture raises enough issues for a half-dozen more conventional movies. And though this approach makes for a structure that's a little shaky, the film somehow holds together.

May 13, 2013 | Full Review…

Director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi are better at depicting a new milieu than in making an important or innovative statement.

May 13, 2013 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for My Beautiful Laundrette

I have seen this film on several "100 Best Films" lists (well, for sub-genres), but I just don't get it. Other than having progressive social messages, there's little that keeps the film from being a complete washout. The acting is not impressive -- and indeed, the main star (Warnecke) has an impenetrable, silly smile for no reason throughout the film, even when a smile is completely out of synch with what's going on around him. The cinematography, editing, sound and everything else technical sinks to the level of your typical 1980's "B movie". Even the opening credits are ineffective novelties, with titles spinning around like they're going down the drain with the rest of the movie. And the writing! Nothing is adequately explained other than the point that both Pakistani immigrants and blue collar street toughs perceive themselves to be disadvantaged by each other. Romances and sexuality issues come out of nowhere and subsequently disappear without even seeming to register on Warnecke's silly grin. I wouldn't recommend this movie to anyone other than film historians who care about its influence on 1980's British cinema because it sure ain't enjoyable otherwise.

Christian C
Christian C

Super Reviewer

Within the context of film history, this film is surely important as a pioneer in discussion homosexuality in a straight-forward, even endorsing, manner. But I can't help noticing that the dialogue is stolid and expository. Additionally, the gay relationship is not adequately set up. We get no looks of longing or attraction between Omar and Johnny; they rather suddenly kiss. No matter the sexuality of the relationship, the audience needs some clue about the characters' objectives. With Warnecke's performance, it is almost impossible to tell anything about his character's emotional life because during much of his screen time he has a plastic, "I-smile-just-because" grin, which often belies the events going on around him. Finally, we get a lot of generalized complaints about "this country," and the anti-Pakistani sentiment is revealed, but is this only what the complaints refer to? I shouldn't have to ask this question. I think the biggest surprise about this film isn't the gay relationship but the fact that this was nominated for Best Screenplay.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

Had to watch it for a film class. Might not have watched it otherwise.

Jennifer D
Jennifer D

Super Reviewer

Stephen Frears's 1985 film is a testament for a group of confused, irreverent middle to lower class youths of the Thatcher years in London. The characters of My Beautiful Laundrette are young, they have nothing to do, they want to do something... but they don't know when, or what to do. Above all, they want out of the niche. They want money. The epicenter is Omar, the son of Pakistani emigrees. He's constantly harassed by a group of skinheads, who can't understand why Johnny -who is white- hangs out with him more than he does with them. So not only are Johnny and Omar adrift and lacking a definite social circle, they are also romantically involved, which doesn't incite much approval either. They are pretty much alone in their quest for stability and success. This is what the film is about. A slice of their daily lives, and how Omar wants to start working at his Uncle's laundrette and turn it into the fanciest laundrette in the area. And make money. Johnny helps him. They overcome some of the obstacles, the frowning, and the pressure to take a more 'normal' path and split up, but when the film ends it is obvious the trouble is not over and never will be. I have never understood MBL as a generalization of the Thatcher years, especially considering how specific the conditions of the characters are. Of course, it must be parting from a generally uniform view of the social climate, but I would hate to suggest it reflects an entire society. However, that doesn't make the story any less important. A general knowledge of the average, slightly fundamentalist Western man is enough to understand how realistic the attitudes of harassment towards Omar and Johnny are. Therefore, although so specific, the film addresses real issues. So if you're not in for some critical thinking it's better you don't watch it. Omar and Johnny's relationship is both same gender and interracial, and it's interesting to see ourselves react before this scenario. Every film that takes on gay or racial issues is bound to be provocative. Although I personally didn't learn anything with MBL, mainly because I have no problem at all with anything, I admire how naturally the film explores controversial themes. I guess what truly struck me is that the "questioning" doesn't feel forced. It's also an interesting watch for any enthusiasts of Daniel Day-Lewis like myself. He had not worked much before (was this his first film?) but the magnetic screen presence is there as much as ever. MBL is an easy-going film with much more depth than it appears to have. You just flow with it and get to know Omar and Johnny. You yell at them for being so stupid sometimes, and you laugh with them on other occasions for being so clever. It is not the best film I've ever seen, but one of the most involving... yes.

Elvira B
Elvira B

Super Reviewer

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