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  Once Upon a Time in the Midlands Make Your Mind Up Time
Year: 2002
Director: Shane Meadows
Stars: Robert Carlyle, Rhys Ifans, Shirley Henderson, Kathy Burke, Ricky Tomlinson, Finn Atkins, James Cosmo, Kelly Thresher, Vic Reeves, Bob Mortimer, Vanessa Feltz
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jimmy (Robert Carlyle) awakes on a sofa in Glasgow one morning to see his ex-girlfriend Shirley (Shirley Henderson), the mother of his daughter, being proposed to on a TV talk show by her new boyfriend. After a robbery, Jimmy escapes with the loot and heads down to the Midlands to confront her, and win her back from the bumbling Dek (Rhys Ifans), whose marriage proposal she has turned down. Does he have a second chance with her?

This comedy drama, written by Paul Fraser and the director Shane Meadows, unites an excellent cast of top British talent for what is ostensibly a western set in contemporary England. It features a pseudo-Morricone music (courtesy of John Lunn), Ricky Tomlinson in a cowboy hat singing country songs, and a showdown between two men for the heart of the woman they love. However, as it proceeds, it is less about genre pastiche and more about romance and relationships.

All the main adult characters are over thirty, people with histories that the others have to live with, but which lead to them letting each other down and causing each other disappointments throughout. Shirley's choice isn't as clear cut as it first appears - she is torn between an unreliable criminal and a cowardly oaf. Should she stay with the father of her daughter Marlene or with her new boyfriend when she has to weigh up the facts that Marlene prefers Dek, but Dek has badly failed her when he ends up letting Jimmy's partners in crime beat up her friend's husband (Tomlinson)?

On the other hand, Shirley has embarrassed Dek by refusing his marriage proposal on live TV. Nobody's perfect is a theme here, but you have to do the best with what you have - love conquers all is another motif. The film shows affection for all the characters, despite their flaws, and employs a clever line in humour, from slapstick (Kathy Burke being hit with a flying microphone) to verbal (Dek pleading with the criminals not to do anything sexual).

You can start to get impatient with Once Upon a Time in the Midlands as an hour goes by with no sign of resolution, and it's valid to point out Meadows was unhappy with the end result, feeling it hadn't lived up to his high hopes for the project, too commercial in the final cut, perhaps. In any case, Dek's inadequacies are laid on a bit thick, even if it's obvious he has a heart of gold under his awkward exterior. But you should stick with it for the unashamedly romantic ending, which, while too sweet and convenient, at least leaves you with a warm glow. See if you can spot Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Shane Meadows  (1972 - )

British writer/director who graduated from two acclaimed short films into his own brand of features, set in ordinary British locations and concentrating on the humour and drama of everyday life: Twenty Four Seven, A Room for Romeo Brass and Once Upon a Time in the Midlands. 2004's Dead Man's Shoes was a change of direction, a rural revenge thriller that got some of his best reviews until the autobiographical This is England became regarded as his finest work, which he sequelised starting in 2010 for a television series.

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