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Once Upon A Time In The Midlands
cast: Rhys Ifans, Robert Carlyle, Shirley Henderson, Ricky Tomlinson, and Kathy Burke

director: Shane Meadows

104 minutes (15) 2002 Fox Pathé VHS rental
[released 19 May]

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
Dek is a skinny, hapless loser, but there's one thing that makes his life worth living; Shirley, his long time partner. When he proposes to her live on national television, though, she panics and turns him down; and who should be watching but Jimmy, Scottish petty criminal and father of Shirley's teenage daughter? Heartened by her refusal, he decides to head down to the Midlands and win her back himself. Oh, and the fact that he's just abandoned his mates in mid-heist and made off with all the money might be a motivating factor.
   However, swaggering into town like the Man With No Name isn't as easy as it sounds. There's his daughter Marlene, who's never even seen him, to think about; his big sister, who's both pleased and alarmed by his reappearance; and retribution for the heist is following him south, threatening to scupper his chances with the now conflicted Shirley...
   Meadow's comedy drama is at its best when living up to its title, and spoofing western conventions; Jimmy arriving in the local bar like a leather-jacketed John Wayne, or a nervous face-off in Dek's car repair workshop, with power tools in place of six-shooters. However, after a strong first half-hour, he can't quite decide whether to go for all-out comedy, or stick to his trademark gritty working-class realism, and the result in an uneven tone.
   With a cast of British luminaries including Robert Carlyle, Kathy Burke, Rhys Ifans and Ricky Tomlinson, the performances are very good, but the characters are awkwardly poised between social realism and comedy stereotype. A failure to make full use of Jimmy's vengeful mates leaves the film a little flat at the end; for a western, it's sadly lacking in anything equivalent to the final showdown. Though Once Upon A Time In The Midlands is an enjoyable film with some amusing and touching moments, in the end it's a great idea that doesn't really live up to its potential.
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