My Beautiful Laundrette (1986): Stephen Frears’ Gay Interracial Romance, Starring Day-Lewis in his Breakthrough Performance (LGBTQ, Gay)

Stephen Frears’ My Beautiful Laundrette, a vibrant British film, was praised for its straightforward handling of a love affair between a Pakistani and a British punk (played by the young and brilliant Daniel Day Lewis).

Grade: A- (**** out of *****)

My Beautiful Laundrette
My Beautiful Laundrette Poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Omar Ali is a young man living in Battersea in the Wandsworth area of South London, right by the railway station. His father, Hussein, once a famous left-wing British Pakistani journalist in Bombay, lives in London but hates Britain’s society and its politics. His dissatisfaction and a family tragedy have led him to sink into alcoholism.

By contrast, Omar’s paternal uncle Nasser is a successful entrepreneur and an active member of the London Pakistani community. Papa asks Nasser to give Omar a job and he is tasked with managing a run-down laundrette and turning it into a profitable business.

Omar tries to reestablish his past friendship with Johnny, a punk, offering him a job to fix up the laundrette with him. The duo soon resume a romantic relationship.  When Omar confronts Johnny about his fascist past. Johnny feels guilty and shows remorse.

When Nasser visits the laundrette with his mistress Rachel, Omar and Johnny make love in the back room, narrowly escaping discovery.  Rachel falls ill with a skin rash apparently caused by a ritual curse from Nasser’s wife, and decides it is best for all that she and Nasser part ways.

Omar protects Johnny who is attacked when the punks trash the laundrette and flee the scene. The film ends on an upbeat note, with the two buddies shirtless, playfully splashing each other with water, implying that their bond is solid.

“I wanted the story to be about Asians, not about gays, so the gay relationship had to seem perfectly natural,” said writer Hanif Kureshi.  Indeed, the novelty of “My Beautiful Laundrette” was in the casual way it depicted the gay affair, as only one of the subplots of  a maze of  tangled relationships. Occurring only in the second half of the tale, the gay affair just happened, but it was neither the characters’ whole life nor the whole movie.

Grounded in the zeitgeist that marked Thatcher’s regime, “My Beautiful Laundrette” juxtaposed capitalist versus socialist ideologies, and reflected the new, real demographic profile of London as a capital of immense ethnic and national diversity.

Originally shot in 16mm for Channel 4 on a low-budget, it was met with such critical acclaim at the Edinburgh Film Fest that it was distributed to cinemas. Made on a low budget of less than $1 million, the film was a commercial hit wherever it played.

Oscar Context:

My Beautiful Laundrette was nominated the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, by Hanif Kureishi, but it lost to Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters.

Critical Status

The screenplay received an award from the National Society of Film Critics (NSFC).

Daniel Day-Lewis received the 1986 award for Best Supporting Actor from the National Board of Review (NBR).

Credits:

Directed by Stephen Frears
Produced by Sarah Radclyffe
Written by Hanif Kureishi
Music by Stanley Myers, Hans Zimmer (as Ludus Tonalis)
Cinematography Oliver Stapleton
Edited by Mick Audsley

Production companies: Working Title Films, Channel Four Films

Distributed by Mainline Pictures

Release date: September 7, 1985 (TIFF); November 16, 1985

Running time
97 minutes[2]
UK

Budget £650,000
Box office $2,451,545