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Naked (1993)

Courtesy of Channel Four Television

Main image of Naked (1993)
35mm, 131 min; colour
DirectorMike Leigh
Production CompanyThin Man Films
 Film Four Int'l
ProducerSimon Channing-Williams
Written byMike Leigh
CinematographyDick Pope

Cast: David Thewlis (Johnny); Katrin Cartlidge (Sophie); Lesley Sharp (Louise); Greg Cruttwell (Jeremy); Claire Skinner (Sandra); Peter Wight (Brian); Ewen Bremner (Archie)

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Johnny, a highly intelligent but bitterly cynical Mancunian wanderer, arrives in London, where his presence has a powerful impact on those he meets.

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By 1993 Mike Leigh had established a formidable reputation, both on television and in the cinema, as a shrewd commentator on the attitudes and lifestyles of suburban Britain. Naked was a radical departure in more ways than one, presenting audiences with satire of Swiftian scope and ferocity and a complex anti-hero as its main protagonist. It also marked a breakthrough to international recognition, notably at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won prizes for Leigh as Best Director and for David Thewlis, who was named Best Actor.

Thewlis's performance as Johnny is a blistering, at times unpalatable, tour-de-force. Johnny is a drifter, an outsider, an amateur philosopher and, arguably, a rapist. He is prone to bludgeon anyone he meets with a furious, hyper-articulate tirade of abuse, apparent nihilism and black humour. The apotheosis of the disillusioned idealists who populate Leigh's work, he is also capable of some appallingly misogynistic behaviour - a fact that alienates many viewers and makes even his occasional engaging moments very hard to embrace.

The issue is complicated by Leigh's refusal to condemn Johnny outright, either within the narrative or when interviewed about the film. Throughout the film, he teasingly compares Johnny to another young male character, a yuppie landlord named Jeremy, who has a social power that Johnny lacks, and is a truly loathsome character, cynical and misanthropic where Johnny, for all his sometimes unforgivable behaviour, is merely disenchanted and bitter.

The journey with Johnny through London's urban wasteland, and his various encounters on the way, make for an exhausting, exhilarating experience. The long sequence in which Johnny debates the future with a troubled security guard named Brian (played by one of Leigh's favourite actors, Peter Wight) is especially well conceived and acted. It is also shot in a more stylised fashion than we had come to expect from Leigh's previous work: a long two-shot of Johnny and Brian silhouetted against the windows of an eerily empty building is particularly striking.

In a Britain under a post-Thatcher Conservative government, and less than a decade from the new millennium, Naked offered trenchant comment on both a troubled present and an uncertain future. One of the most resonant moments involves a young Scottish man, Archie, who is searching the city streets for his lost girlfriend. The sight of this homeless, frustrated, furious youth, impotently bellowing "Maggie!" into the night is a truly memorable image.

Tony Whitehead

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Video Clips
1. The monkey the bird and the crap ideas (2:59)
2. The butterfly flap (3:00)
3. The past the present the future (3:13)
4. The secret (3:00)
Bremner, Ewen (1970-)
Leigh, Mike (1943-)
Thewlis, David (1963-)
Channel 4 and Film