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Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987)

Main image of Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987)
DirectorStephen Frears
Production CompanyCinecom
 Working Title Films
 Channel Four
 British Screen Finance
 Sammy And Rosie Ltd
ProducerTim Bevan
 Sarah Radclyffe
ScreenplayHanif Kureishi
PhotographyOliver Stapleton
EditorMick Audsley
MusicStanley Myers

Shashi Kapoor (Rafi Rahman); Frances Barber (Rosie); Claire Bloom (Alice); Ayub Khan-Din (Sammy); Roland Gift (Danny)

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Sammy is the hedonistic, thoroughly English son of a prominent Asian politician who abandoned the young man and his mother in London years before to seek wealth and power in his homeland. But one day he returns to rejoin his family...

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Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987) was Hanif Kureishi's second screenplay, and like his first, My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) was directed by Stephen Frears and produced by Tim Bevan. This collaboration, however, was different. Its costs were much greater and it failed to make a profit. It met with more mixed reviews: its main flaws were a lack of focus and a fragmented and didactic storyline. Finally, its first theatrical release took place not in Europe (where Laundrette had been a sleeper hit), but in the United States, where there was a much higher expectation of box office success.

Images of London dominate both the script and the visual landscape of the film. While making the film, Kureishi wrote in his published diary, "My love and fascination for inner London endures. Here there is fluidity and possibilities unlimited." When Rafi (Shashi Kapoor) urges his son to move to Pakistan, Sammy (Ayub Khan Din) narrates over a montage of locations from the towpath toward Hammersmith, past the Albert Hall and Royal Court Theatre to the ICA. Here Kureishi emphasises the cosmopolitanism of Sammy's true "homeland".

However, the 'ideal', romantic, even utopian vision of 1980s London that Sammy imagines is in stark contrast to the dismal, hopeless reality of the burning wasteland of the streets outside. Kureishi's London is rent by contradictions between assimilation and separation, conservatism and liberalism, and tradition and progression.

Against a backdrop of homelessness, racial hatred and squalor, the voice of Margaret Thatcher praises prosperity; Sammy and Rosie live on a middle-class street on the edge of a war zone; and while interracial love and extra-marital sex may be a social breakthrough, it is inarticulate, unfulfilling, and ultimately a pursuit of freedom for freedom's sake. We see each of the three couples in a visually striking triple, horizontally-split scene, one pair on top of each other, inhabiting a separate setting, experiencing the same hollow satisfaction of sexually-driven adulterous affairs.

Kureishi called the film his "declaration of war on the British establishment". For all its attempts at an original portrayal of gender, class, race, politics in Thatcher-era London, its main flaw was that this "declaration" was too self-conscious, too transparent, and insufficiently contextualised. It was its all-too-obvious attempt at hipness that left it open to ridicule, while its obsession with sex was a complaint of more than just conservative critics.

Shalini Chanda

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Video Clips
Production stills
Bevan, Tim (1958-)
Frears, Stephen (1941-)
Kureishi, Hanif (1954-)
O'Brien, Rebecca (1957-)
Radclyffe, Sarah (1950-)
Syal, Meera (1962-)
Working Title Films
Asian-British Cinema
Channel 4 and Film