Once Upon A Time In The Midlands Review

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Watching Dek's failed marriage proposal to his ex, Shirley, on a daytime TV show, Glaswegian rogue Jimmy returns to claim the wife and daughter he left behind.


The last of Shane Meadows' 'Midlands trilogy' is a lighter, more upbeat affair than TwentyFourSeven and A Room For Romeo Brass. Replaying a classic Western scenario - a stranger comes to town with devastating consequences - in a Midlands suburb, Meadows has created his most plot-driven, easy-to-like, yet somehow disposable, flick to date.

The film will undoubtedly draw comparisons with the working-class parables of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, but Meadows' sensibility is more joyous than that of the former and less sneering than that of the latter. It is easy to share his affection for his characters.

Meadows slyly alludes to the cowboy genre - a stand-off in the saloon, some Leone-esque compositions - without overwhelming the story. He also draws great performances from his cast. Ifans does some of his best film work to date, making Dek an engaging mixture of the clownish and heartfelt, while Henderson (Britain's most underrated actress) plays Shirley as sweet yet selfish, as she dithers between the two men. However, the acting honours are hijacked by young Finn Atkins who makes Marlene wise and real, never lapsing into cute kid tactics to ingratiate herself.

Surprisingly, Carlyle never really illuminates the delinquent Jimmy, and his subplot involving run-ins with Glaswegian outlaws adds an unwelcome false note to the proceedings.

Where Midlands really shines is in its smaller vignettes - Kathy Burke and Ricky Tomlinson provide trademark moments of salty comedy and pathos - but its central triangle fails to deliver the emotional punch the lovely trimmings deserve.

Although Midlands is less than the sum of its parts and eventually outstays its welcome, it has loads of lovely bits to enjoy. Meadows consolidates his skill at mixing humour and humanity in likeable packages; when everything coalesces, he will be a force