Dirty Pretty Things

UK release date: 13 December 2002

cast list
Audrey Tautou
Chiwetel Ejiofor

directed by
Stephen Frears

Dirty Pretty Things tells the story of Senay and her friend and co-worker Okwe, and their grim existence as illegal immigrants in London. Senay works as a maid in a large fictional hotel, and Okwe (who needs no sleep) spends his time between working as a night-porter in said hotel, and as a mini-cab driver looking for vulnerable customers who in his words have been ‘letdown by the system’.

Their friendship gets them into trouble, both with immigration and their employers, and Senay, who has come to England for a dream life, starts work in a factory, where she herself becomes the vulnerable ‘customer’.

This British-funded film, directed by Stephen Frears (he of My Beautiful Laundrette and a personal favourite of mine: The Van), is rather unkind to the British. Firstly, London is painted as a terrible unkind city where sex, prostitution, rape and sexual and racist exploitation are the norm (call me naive, but there is more to London than this).

There are only three Brit characters, consisting of two nasty bullies working for the UK Immigration Service, and the biggest nasty of all of them (spoiler alert): the human organ dealer. The rest of the characters are all immigrants in some way, from the innocent young Senay at the bottom of the food chain up to the powerful Spanish owner of the hotel in which she works as a maid.

The Brits are unquestionably portrayed as the powerful figures and enforcers, while the immigrants are all seen as a generic underclass working for their masters. Such casting and plot lines detailing the underground legal and illegal immigration ‘underworld’ of the system – a trait lauded by reviewers and film enthusiasts as being almost revolutionary in film – is perhaps where the film is let down the most.

In what is most definitely a immigraxploitation pic (nice word, eh!), nothing is left to subtlety or the imagination- we are spoon-fed a hatred of the ‘system’, and most importantly we are not allowed to think freely about the important political and ethical issues involved. Yet a huge contradiction exists due to the wonderfully smooth editing and quasi-foreign music that pervades, which constantly makes us feel as though what we are seeing is purely ‘entertainment’ to be enjoyed.

That said, Audrey Tautou and Chiwetel Ejiofor (currently starring in The Vortex at London’s Donmar Warehouse) are truly magnificent as the leads, and really do give everything they can to their parts.

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