Originally made for Channel Four television, this delightful, surprising, original, engrossing, and comical film from England really took Margaret Thatcher‘s Britain to the wash-in more ways than one.
In the UK, My Beautiful Laundrette opened to the most lavish set of rave reviews to come out of Britain since A Passage to India, and the fact that it has a gay love affair at the centre of its action (ground-breaking in 1986) did not deter audiences for a single moment.
While it was not a gay movie per se, the two lovers who survive its continual pitfalls were the most charming and likeable pair of screen romantics audiences had come across in ages. They just both happened to be men.
The movie was a marvellous, genuine, often funny send-up of Asians “taking over” London, played out against a turbulent backdrop set in a seedy, violent, racially mixed South London.
Laundrette talked about class, race, sex, ambition, business, and contemporary life in England, swinging a wrecker’s ball at the shaky moral edifice of Mrs Thatcher‘s new enterprise culture.
At the centre of the story was Omar (Gordon Warnecke), a good looking and enterprising Pakistani immigrant who lives with his drunken, disillusioned, burned-out, bedridden father, a Bombay-born journalist who never found the key to making a success in London, but who still believes in the value of a good education.
Omar is sent to his rich Uncle Nasser (played by the great Indian actor Saeed Jaffrey) for instruction. Uncle Nasser has ‘made it’, although like most Pakistanis originally brought to England as servants and blue-collar workers, he had been forced to cheat and slave his way into a position of authority.
No matter . . . Nasser now owned a series of small businesses and apartment buildings. “There’s no question of race in the enterprise culture,” says Uncle, as he forcibly dispossesses an English poet from his flat for non-payment of rent.
Omar is a quick and eager pupil, taking on a run-down failure of a laundrette called (symbolically) the Churchill, financing its overhaul with money from the sale of porno films and heroin.
He turns the place into a raving, kitsch hit with the help of his friend Johnny, a sensitive punk who is trying to break away from the gang of hooligans he’s been running around with and start a new life.
Johnny, a white boy with a bleached white strip down his black hair clipped sharp as an upholstery brush, becomes Omar’s employee and lover.
This complicates the web of racial violence in the neighbourhood, but the overwhelming theme is that racial and political differences can be resolved through love.
The laundrette in the film was located in Vauxhall’s Wilcox Road, while Omar’s father’s shabby flat overlooked the train tracks in Battersea.
Shirley Anne Field