once upon a time in the midlands (2003)


director: shane meadows

robert carlyle, rhys ifans, shirley henderson

The British film industry, having recently undergone its fifth or sixth revival with a spate of romantic comedies and hyperviolent gangster films, has run aground once again with Once Upon A Time In The Midlands.

Set in the same working-class semi-squalor as Billy Elliot and The Full Monty, and essentially reprising a character from Trainspotting, director Shane Meadows' film has none of the charm, audacity, or respect for its subjects that made British films so vital for almost ten years. It's a shaggy dog comedy that quickly turns into a maudlin drama, then lurches for a sentimentality that feels like deceit. A real mess, in other words.

Robert Carlyle plays a crook who absconds with his gang's loot, fleeing Glasgow for his midlands hometown when he sees his ex-girlfriend (Shirley Henderson) on a Springer-style daytime talk show, turning down a proposal by her lovestruck boyfriend (Rhys Ifans). His arrival back in town sets off a series of cataclysms, which Meadows tries - apropo his film's title - to evoke in the style of Sergio Leone's famous spaghetti westerns.

Carlyle's Jimmy, alas, is little more than a dim shadow of his malevolent Begbie in Trainspotting, but he's no more unsympathetic and inconsistently written than any of the other characters. From the opening sequence on the TV show, to the last, dismal yet inevitable finale, there's a mocking distance placed between the audience and the denizens of Meadows' story, a subtle yet unmistakable sense of ridicule that can't be redeemed by any lugubrious application of Sarah McLachlan tunes or improbably tidy montages of reconciliation.