Dirty Pretty Things

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Illegal alien Okwe – a Nigerian doctor with tragic secrets – works two jobs and rents sofa space from Turkish refugee Senay. When he makes a gruesome discovery he cannot go to the police, but risks sleuthing himself, while trying to protect Senay and evad


This unconventional, compelling thriller pulls off a complicated trick neatly – combining social observation and political comment entertainingly, with an original mystery at the fore. It is set in an as yet little-explored London scene – that of the new, invisible workforce of asylum-seeking chamber maids, seamstresses, minicab drivers and night porters who have converged on the UK from far-flung countries and cultures, bringing with them sad histories and humble hopes.

It's hard to believe its writer was one of the 'creators' of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, but then, greed and humiliation are reliable staples of human interest – and both certainly play their part in this story.

Tautou is the audience bait for Amélie fans and she is again enchanting, and very touching, as the vulnerable but proud girl trying to maintain personal standards, prepared to do almost anything to survive except admit her feelings. But at the head of the international cast is charismatic British actor Ejiofor, who has already earned notice at the Royal National Theatre. As the conscience of the story, he carries the weight of the film, and he does so with authority and poise.

While it's essential to the plot that the characters inhabit a seedy London shadow-world of sleazy hotels and backstreet enterprises, this is by no means as bleak or depressing as one might think. It's beautifully filmed by the Oscar-winning Chris Menges, and there is considerable humour springing from the colourful but utterly believable array of outsiders, hustlers, creeps, dreamers and schemers. Our favourite is the dry Chinese hospital morgue attendant (Wong), who plays chess with Okwe, dispensing romance and survival tips, along with purloined medicines.

As for the shocking riddle Okwe stumbles upon, it's a chiller: the kind of macabre crime that makes an urban legend and serves well here to put the sympathetic protagonist into peril and an almighty moral pickle.

Meaty, honest and touching work that reflects modern multicultural society, with Frears doing what he does most creatively: casting a fresh light on the dark corners of life.