Katrin Cartlidge in Mike Leigh’s “Naked” [1993 UK]

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On the eve of the London Olympics, and walking amidst the sea of union flags, nervous commuters, and hysterical BBC presenters who’ve by now pitched tent in every corner of town, it is not difficult to come across a noticeable outpouring of exuberance around you, quite unusual for ‘normal’ British behaviour. Don’t get me wrong, actually, I’m one of those really glad to have the games here, and would even love to see F1-racing through Charring Cross Road. Of course, I don’t really need to commute for work, nor do I physically need to visit the area to trade, much like some of those planning the event. I’m grateful as it is that they didn’t pack us all out of town like they did in Beijing. Besides, where there is chaos, there’s also chance of having some fun, and I have decided to embrace this chaos. Why else do you think the British are renowned for their sense of humour!

Works by British director Mike Leigh manifest this cherished sense of humour, he is after all one of Britain’s finest and inquiring film makers working today. His brilliant nihilistic drama “Naked” set a new standard for Danny Boyle and others to follow, in its depiction of gritty realism infused with sharp wit and a healthy dose of social satire.

It is actually not that relevant but here it is anyway – unemployed Mancunian Johnny arrives at ex-girlfriend Louise’s shared flat in London after getting himself into trouble back home. Johnny is introduced to her outrageous ‘wicky-wacky’ flat mate Sophie, and before long they hit if off. The following day however, he’s had enough of both the women and walks off into the night – his walkabout will take him past some unforgettable characters and situations among the remnants of Thatcherite Britain. He momentarily crawls back to Louise and Sophie’s flat after being beaten black and blue by some local thugs, and gets to meet their well-off landlord Jeremy who’d dropped by ostensibly to collect ‘rent arrears’. Throughout the film, we’ll see a constant comparison of these two characters – not quite dissimilar in the way they treat women, but while one’s is out of arrogance, the other’s is out of alienation, and it is the alienated Johnny who we will feel empathy for.

Watching this film is like opening the manhole of a blocked-up sewer – it will hit you with a blast even if you’re aware of what to expect. And I mean it in the best possible way, because it ultimately has a cleansing effect. It is ugly, bitter, and at times unpleasant, but it is also incredibly moving and a keenly observed study of relationships using humour. It is cinema, pure and beautiful. David Thewlis who plays Johnny is sensational, delivering a complex character with all its flaws and vulnerabilities quite magnificently. Lesley Sharp as Louise revels in the understated irony of her character, and Katrin Cartlidge who plays Sophie is the perfect foil to Thewlis’ bitter rantings. It is a shame that Ms. Cartlidge, a talented and gifted actress passed away at such an early age. As for Mr. Thewlis, remarkable as he is in this film, he is at times upstaged by Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting) who plays a frantic Scot that Johnny befriends during his walk across the city. Some of the scenes will stick with you for a while, and some scenes you will love to watch them again. A fine director’s masterpiece, Mike Leigh’s “Naked” is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

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