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Mona Lisa (1986)

Courtesy of HandMade plc

Main image of Mona Lisa (1986)
35mm, colour, 104 mins
Directed byNeil Jordan
Production CompanyPalace Pictures
Produced byPatrick Cassavetti
 Stephen Woolley
Screenplay byNeil Jordan
 David Leland
PhotographyRoger Pratt
MusicMichael Kamen

Cast: Bob Hoskins (George); Cathy Tyson (Simone); Robbie Coltrane (Thomas); Michael Caine (Dinny Mortwell); Clarke Peters (Anderson); Sammi Davis (May); Kate Hardie (Cathy)

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George, a career criminal just out of prison, is assigned as a driver to Simone, a black prostitute. Their initially frosty relationship develops into friendship, and George begins to fall in love. But Simone has other priorities.

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Co-written by Neil Jordan and David Leland, Mona Lisa is a study of love and loyalty in the brutal and self-serving criminal underworld. Both Bob Hoskins and writer/director Jordan are to be commended for making George, basically a thug to hire with typically 1970s prejudices, such a sympathetic lead. Michael Caine's amoral gangster Denny Mortwell is the human embodiment of a clinically ruthless, money-obsessed '80s mentality. George, by contrast, seems a relic of the '70s, struggling and failing to assimilate.

The atmosphere of the film is bittersweet, with the hopelessness and brutality of the landscape set against the belief that a beautiful romance is about to blossom between our protagonist and his Mona Lisa, Simone (Cathy Tyson). We are subtly forewarned of tragedy in the words of Nat King Cole's melancholic 1950s standard of the same name, played throughout (often in George's car). Yet, we continue to be lulled into a sense of false hope (along with poor George), possibly because we are so used to watching formulaic films with happy endings.

In her first title role, Tyson was greeted with critical acclaim, winning an Apex Scroll and and a Golden Globe nomination. Bob Hoskins won the 1986 Best Actor Award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics, and the National Society of Film Critics as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Robbie Coltrane is well cast as George's eccentric best mate and there are cameos from Joe Brown and Kenny Baker.

Beside today's gritty urban realism, Mona Lisa is fairly clean and upbeat. Minor details such as casting a 30-year-old Kate Hardy as the 15-year-old Cathy contribute, as does an admirable refusal to exploit the sexual content. Instead the film focuses on dissecting the relationship between George and Simone, constantly surprising us with revelation upon revelation and ultimately offering a rumination on a wide variety of love - real, imagined, romantic, sexual, and platonic.

Rachel Wilson-Dickson

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Video Clips
1. George's mission (4:37)
2. The little things (2:53)
3. On the pier (4:17)
Original poster
Production stills
Caine, Michael (1933-)
Coltrane, Robbie (1950-)
Hoskins, Bob (1942-)
Jordan, Neil (1950-)
Leland, David (1947-)
Tyson, Cathy (1965-)
Walker, Lesley
Woolley, Stephen (1956-)
HandMade Films
Palace Pictures