My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Love and the pains of prejudice are just two of the themes pumping through My Beautiful Laundrette’s veins, ensuring that this affecting, intimate portrait of inner city ’80s life is as lively as it is absorbing.

Young Pakistani Omar (Gordon Warnecke) lives in London with his alcoholic father. Given a job by his uncle at a rundown local laundrette, Omar seizes it as a canny business opportunity. Amid pressures to attend college and get married, Omar bumps into old acquaintance Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis) one night, and the seeds of an old relationship sprout anew.

Laundrette’s biggest surprise (and risk) has long since become common knowledge – that of the daring romance between Omar (affectionately and comically known as ‘Omo’) and reformed white thug Johnny. What’s most admirable about Laundrette’s handling of ‘gayness’, though, is that it refuses to portray Omo and Johnny’s relationship as any different from any other fledgling romance. Tellingly, Omo and Johnny’s is the most put-together pair-up in the entire film.

Where most contemporary ‘gay’ films root their plotlines in the traumas of being gay, Laundrette keeps it low-key and genuinely touching, deliberately skirting the obvious ‘issues’ that a gay romance might invite. Day-Lewis in particular is on top form, deepening his thuggish bad boy into an affectionate, well-meaning squatter earnestly seeking atonement for his past misdeeds.

There’s more going on in Laundrette than gayness alone. Though it’s clearly a product of the ‘80s, the London it presents isn’t all that different from the London of today. Cleverly pictured by director Stephen Frears as a stifled hodgepodge of urban development gone mad, in which people live literally on top of one another (often in the least aesthetically pleasing of surrounds), it’s the perfect breeding ground for our busy story.

Training its eye on numerous plot strands involving adultery, family pressures and racism, Laundrette is never drowned by its subject matter, retaining a warm sense of humour that often goes hand-in-hand with gratifyingly gritty realism. It remains a beautiful snapshot of troubled times, bringing with it the hope that good things really do happen to good people. 4/5