Mike Leigh’s Naked (1993) (18s) 2hrs 6mins
Stars: David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge, Greg Cruttwell.
Johnny is a very angry young man. He travels from Manchester to London to lay low for a while as he has just sexually assaulted a woman in Manchester. He waits outside the flat of his ex-girlfriend, Louise, played by Lesley Sharp. She lives with Sophie (Katrin Cartildge) and Sandra (Claire Skinner). Johnny spends the afternoon in the flat with Sophie while he waits for Louise.
An unflinching character study of Johnny (the magnificent David Thewlis) spirals from here, as he philosophises with everyone in sight about the world, the bible and the supposed apocalypse which is to take place on 18th August 1999. The London streets after-dark is where Johnny feels at home. Sophie takes a shine to Johnny’s witty and humorous side. Johnny converses with a night security guard Brian (Peter Wight) who gives a thoughtful performance.
Johnny is angry because no one cares that he is angry. He is always violent towards women (they trust him because he exudes charisma and charm). Enter Jeremy (Greg Cruttwell), Sandra’s sadistic landlord who has a lot of time on his hands. He is also violent towards women. Although, Jeremy just does it for fun. It is not a film about transcendence (to be better people and all that); it is about being in world where characters are psychologically and spiritually ‘naked’. They struggle to find happiness and as a result abandon all hope. Women are very much seen as victims in a world of domineering men.
Viewers should be warned that ‘Naked’ has some very strong scenes of sex and violence. This is the only way that some of the characters can express themselves.
David Thewlis gives the best leading male performance of the year. He authentically portrays the dark side of the human condition. Thewlis won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival which also honoured the direction of Mike Leigh, whose much improvised script and dialogue is razor sharp with wit and realism. Thewlis was also voted best actor by the critics of London, New York, the National Society of U.S. Critics and the Evening Standard of British Film. How he did not receive any Oscar attention is one of the great tragedies of film history. His wit and dazzle with the dialogue reminded me of Malcolm McDowell’s Alex in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (1971). Johnny says things like “What if God put us here for his own entertainment?”
Lesley Sharp is well able to hold her own in a supporting role, in which her character is a responsible working woman. Gregg Cruttwell is suitably slimy as the evil Jeremy. Katrin Cartridge has a beautiful presence that displays a notion of loss and hopelessness. Claire Skinner is very believable as a control freak, who needs to get out more (she is one of few women not to be aroused by Johnny’s charm).
Johnny’s line: “No Matter how many books you read there are some things in this world that you never, ever, ever, ever, ever fucking understand”, best describes the atmosphere of this British masterpiece.