Director Mike Leigh
Writer Mike Leigh
Lead David Thewlis
Box Office $1.7m
Johnny, played by the magnificent David Thewlis, leaves Manchester after sexually assaulting a woman in a backstreet. He then flees the city down to East London in search of his ex-girlfriend Sandra. Johnny is a sexual being, having seen in that he seduces his ex’s roommate almost instantly.
A certain highlight is the foreshadowing joke from Thewlis about werewolves.
Johnny is a pathological liar, unshaken by a need to explore in order to escape from the morbidity of his own life – both in Manchester and in London. In an ordinary film where the idealistic equilibrium and disequilibrium interchange to suit a three-act structure, there might have been character development. But this isn’t fantasy, this is a kitchen sink realism film. Billy Liar still fantasies for a better life just as Billy Casper mourns for his kestrel in Kes and Colin remains to be beaten in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.
These are the lives of real people. Johnny remains Johnny long after the end credits roll.
Johnny’s primality is mirrored in Jeremy’s pursuit of everything female and aloud musings (and subsequent practice) of rape, despite their large differences in class – Johnny from the slum of a Northern town, Jeremy the rich Londoner. This is the crux of the film. The brutality of each main male character transcends societal and geographical boundaries.
Johnny goes on a philosophical tour of East London, a societal film from a Thatcherite hangover. Louise (Lesley Sharp) has escaped the doldrums of the North to find herself a career, leaving bereft Johnny on the dole. Even with a psychology A Level he can’t get a job, maybe he doesn’t want one, maybe he wants aspire to be something more than what he’s qualified for. Despite earning as a file clerk, she’s unhappy, she’s moved for a friendless, boring and lifeless start in London.
Things aren’t much better for Louise’s roommate, Sophie, also on the dole despite living in “the big shitty”, as Johnny labels it. Ewen Bremner’s character, typically Scottish, along with his girlfriend don’t have things better since their move down to London, sleeping rough: this is Johnny’s first encounter on his long philosophical road.
Job or no job, every character lives under a thick cloud. Cities and towns and motorways are hazy, the life’s gone out of everything and its people. East London resembles more of an Eraserhead-esque cityscape than anything habitable. This is a Britain still recovering from Margaret Thatcher, a Britain that is old, limping towards an agonising fate, waiting to be rescued by the optimism of Britpop, Four Weddings and a Funeral and David Beckham. The early nineties in Britain is the void in which this film inhabits.
Julie Burchill of the Sunday Times wrote that the characters talked like lobotomised Muppets. Burchill, born in Frenchay, a leafy surburb of Gloucestershire littered with manor houses, is someone who has probably never traversed the M1 North or the M6 up to Manchester, opting to stick with the gluttonous glum of the south. Keep in your bubble.
This is arguably director Mike Leigh’s finest work alongside his 2014 hit Mr Turner. Leigh won Best Director at Cannes for this stupendous piece of filmmaking, coupled with Thewlis’ nod for Best Actor at Cannes. Leigh of Salford and Thewlis of Blackpool, there is a clear Northern underscore to what is a less-than-privileged part of London.
David Thewlis came to prominence with this role having previously played a part in The Trial, a reimagining of Franz Kafka’s novel. Thewlis has since been swallowed up by the wizarding world of Harry Potter for which he is most well known for. Anomalisa, for which he is also magnificent in. He’s cast in the upcoming Avatar sequels. He knows when to make his money in big franchises and cut loose into more fulfilling roles.
Thewlis and Leigh, the north-west dream team.