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When mild-mannered Clutch Hutch manager Dek (Rhys Ifans) proposes marriage on live TV to his sweetheart Shirley (Shirley Henderson), he doesn't get the answer he was hoping for. Maybe that's because Shirley has unresolved feelings for her fresh-out-of-prison former partner, Jimmy (Robert Carlyle), who witnesses the proposal on TV from Glasgow, where he and his mates are busy holding up a bank.Jimmy rides back into the Midlands to rekindle his relationship with Shirley and their daughter, Marlene (Finn Atkins), much to Dek's despair. Soon the meek but good-hearted hero finds himself in a high-noon showdown with the dark-hearted stranger.

Review by Shannon J. Harvey:
You gotta love the tagline to this lovable little movie: "A tinned spaghetti western". Shane Meadows, the writer-director of A Room For Romeo Brass, has infused only the slightest of the American Western trademarks in his feel-good comedy-drama about the agony and ecstasy of family. And remember Rhys Ifan, the lanky looking British lad who posed in his jocks for the paparazzi in Notting Hill? Well, he's back from the wilderness after a string of flops (Danny Deckchair, anyone?) and playing to his potential here. Ifans displays just the right amount of sheepishness, courage and deep, hopeless love for his girl here. It's an admirable performance, from hiding in the closet to trying to ice skate, and proves he truly is the Frank Spencer of today. 

Riffing nicely - but ever so lightly - on Sergio's Leone's classic western Once Upon A Time In The West, Meadows gives us a gentle, laconic kitchen sink drama more reminiscent of Mike Leigh or Ken Loach than John Ford or John Wayne. It's a western only in its bare bones, where a man with a dark past returns to town and attempts to take back his woman. Standing in his way is a man who might not have the guts to stand up to him, but surely has more to lose. Meadows' masterstroke is to keep things simple by using that bare-bones plot and adding a few flashes of music or cinematography that recall the western. The juxtaposition of the two disparate genres work nicely together, creating a few laughs, great performances, and some genuinely touching emotions. Kathy Burke adds her trademark tatty British realism as Shirley's best mate and Jimmy's sister, and Ricky Tomlinson is hilarious as her country 'n' western loving husband. They have plenty of kids, and love all of them, just like Dek loves Shirley and Marlene, and they him. This bittersweet British comedy is easily the equal of its overpraised counterparts such as Billy Elliot or The Full Monty. Strap on your spurs and ride into cinemas. 

Review by David Edwards:

English kitchen-sink drama meets spaghetti Western in Shane Meadows’ intriguing and ultimately satisfying Once Upon a Time in the Midlands. The combination seems a little incongruous to begin with, but as this quirky and quite charming film wends its way to a resolution, it all makes perfect sense. 

While the title conjures images of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West, the Western elements of the film have little to do with that particular film, having more in common with say The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or High Noon. Indeed, Meadows references a number of films (even The Parent Trap), although he keeps these references subtle. While all this is great for aficionados, what makes this movie work is the script by Meadows and Paul Fraser. Although the story takes a while to get going, once it does, its combination of humour, pathos and wonderfully drawn characters leaves a powerful mark. 

Unlike Meadows’ earlier films, which featured mainly unknown or even untrained actors, Once Upon A Time In The Midlands boasts an impressive cast of British thespians. Rhys Ifans and Robert Carlyle lead the way as the two men vying for Shirley’s heart. This is a much gentler comedy than is usual for Ifans, but he makes Dek a sympathetic and genuinely likeable character. For Carlyle however, this is familiar territory from his time on films like Trainspotting – not that it detracts from his performance. As was often the case with real Westerns though, it’s the women who shine in the cast. Shirley Henderson, terrific in 24 Hour Party People, once again hits the mark as Shirley, while Kathy Burke has some of the best scenes as Carol, Shirley’s neighbour. For all its macho trappings, Once Upon A Time In The Midlands is one of those gentle human comedies that the British do so well. It certainly won’t be the flashiest film of the year, but for a film about real people coming to terms with real problems, it makes for a funny, uplifting and rewarding 104 minutes.

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(UK / Germany / Netherlands)

CAST: Robert Carlyle, Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Feltz, Ricky Tomlinson, Kathy Burke, Vicki Patterson, Shirley Henderson

PRODUCER: Andrea Calderwood

DIRECTOR: Shane Meadows

SCRIPT: Paul Fraser, Shane Meadows


EDITOR: Peter Beston, Trevor Waite

MUSIC: John Lunn


RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 4, 2003


VIDEO RELEASE: March 31, 2004

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