Best Movies by Farr: Frears’s Films

February 8, 2010 | John Farr

Two sleepers and a hit from British director Stephen Frears.

My Beautiful Laundrette (1986)


Omar (Gordon Warnecke) is a young Pakistani Londoner who gets a shot at living the capitalist dream when his mob-connected Uncle Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey) asks him to manage a ramshackle laundromat-and turn a profit. Soon after taking over, Omar runs into old school chum Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis), now a working-class thug affiliated with the fascist National Front. Omar hires him despite his odious ideology, and the two become partners, and lovers.


Originally made for the BBC, and scripted by half-Pakistani writer Hanif Kureishi, Frears’s endearing, intelligent “Laundrette” is a dramatic and often humorous study of bigotry, sexuality, and social mobility in Thatcher-era Britain. Warnecke and Day-Lewis are convincing as distinct social types in eighties London-the striving immigrant under pressure to acculturate on one hand and marry a family acquaintance on the other; and the skinhead who turns on his mates to pursue a friendship with a loathsome “Paki.” Coaxing fine support from his multiracial cast, Frears handles it all with tenderness, insight, and unpredictable tonal shifts.

The Snapper (1993)


When unmarried 20-year-old Irish gal Sharon (Tina Kellegher) informs her parents that she’s pregnant, and even refuses to name the irresponsible seed man, the unexpected happens: The large, closely knit family takes it all in stride and tries to be supportive, especially her proud, big-hearted father Dessie (Colm Meaney). But when the neighborhood gossips start wagging their tongues, it all gets too personal for Dessie, and Sharon begins to wonder if moving out isn’t the best thing for everyone.


Written by Roddy Doyle (“The Commitments”), who adapted the script from his own Tarrytown novel, Frears’s “Snapper” lets us cozy up with an eccentric bunch. Like any big family, the Curleys are constantly bickering at each other, but Frears quickly establishes just how tight everyone is, too—especially Dessie and Sharon, who talk turkey while sharing pints at the pub. “Snapper” zeroes in on the special nature of this father-daughter relationship, with Meaney in excellent form as a kindly, slightly overprotective dad, and Kellegher equally good at uproarious girl chatter, deep mortification, and even late-night anxiety. A lovely and bittersweet slice of Irish life.

The Queen (2006)


In 1997, after the tragic death of Princess Diana, emotionally reserved Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) and the Windsor family struggle with growing pressure from newly elected PM Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) and a grief-stricken public to offer some official display of mourning.


Frears’s wry, compelling docu-drama follows Blair’s strenuous efforts to help the hapless Windsors avert a major PR disaster in the wake of Diana’s fatal car accident. Oscar winner Mirren, whose uncanny channeling of Elizabeth’s stiff-upper-lip airs is one of recent cinema’s grandest performances, flawlessly captures the Queen’s eerie old-world reticence. But she also makes her a sympathetic, even intriguing figure. By turns tense and touching, and consistently engrossing, by all means bow down to “The Queen”.

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