Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002)

R   |    |  Comedy, Drama, Romance

Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002) Poster

After seeing his ex-girlfriend (Henderson) turn down a nationally televised marriage proposal, a small-time crook (Carlyle) returns to his hometown to try and win back her heart.

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  • Robert Carlyle and Shirley Henderson in Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002)
  • Shane Meadows at an event for Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002)
  • Robert Carlyle in Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002)
  • Shane Meadows at an event for Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002)
  • Shane Meadows in Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002)
  • Shane Meadows at an event for Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002)

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Reviews & Commentary

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3 September 2002 | bob the moo
Almost, but not quite as good as it should have been
When they appear on a daytime chat show, Dek surprises his girlfriend Shirley by proposing to her, only to have her say no. Shirley's ex and father of her daughter, Marlene, sees the show and leaves Glasgow with stolen money to try to reclaim her. His arrival in the one-horse town of Nottingham sparks a Western style stand off between Dek and Jimmy.

The third part in his trilogy is Meadow's most accessible film and his lightest in style. It is also likely to be FilmFour's swan-song now that it is packing up shop for good. The plot is basically a relationship drama but it is packed with enough nice touches to make it feel more than that. The mix of comedy and drama is good and the `tinned spaghetti western' feel to it manages to be clever and consistent without overpowering the film.

The story does dip in the final third however – the comedy dries up and the central drama between Jimmy, Dek and Shirley comes to the fore. The other characters vanish and the subplot (Jimmy being chased by his ex-gang) just seems to stop for 30 minutes. This dip is still OK but it did feel like it had nowhere to go and was just treading water to fill out the running time.

Apart from this dip the film has much to enjoy. The comedy is good and realistic for the setting. The many characters make for a family feel rather than a simple love triangle tale and the western music and spaghetti clichés are used well without being forced down your throat. The film does also rest on several really good performances.

Ifans is absolutely great – he manages to make Dek a cowardly clown but also very relateable and sympathetic. Add to this a good (if a little mousy) Henderson and a superb turn by Atkins and the main trio are brilliant. Carlyle doesn't work as well and his character is too obvious, changing when he has got his way etc, and doesn't grab attention in the way he can. Burke, Tomlinson and the various support cast are very funny but also very real. Cosmo is good and tough as always and gets plenty of surreal comedy (why do they keep stealing wholly inappropriate vehicles!?) and key a sharp eye out for a downright unusual cameo from comedy duo Vic Reeves and bob Mortimer.

Overall the parts don't all manage to come together but for the most part it is a great mix of comedy and drama carried off by some very good performances. However when the film focuses totally on the triangle at the centre it appears to run out of steam for a while and have little to do but wait for the final showdown.

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Did You Know?


Shirley Henderson (Shirley) and Robert Carlyle (Jimmy) also played in Hamish MacBeth together.


Billy: Are you taking a piss at me?

Crazy Credits

Special thanks to ... the People of Carlton and Gedling, Nottingham ...


Whatever You Want
Written by
Rick Parfitt and Andrew Bown (as Andy Brown)
Published by EMI Music Publishing Ltd.
Performed by Status Quo
Recording courtesy of Mercury Records Ltd. (London)
Licensed by kind permission from The Film & TV Licensing Division
Part of The Universal Music Group


Plot Summary


Comedy | Drama | Romance

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