Dirty Pretty Things tells the story of Senay and herfriend and co-worker Okwe, and their grim existence asillegal immigrants in London. Senay works as a maid ina large fictional hotel, and Okwe (who needs no sleep)spends his time between working as a night-porter insaid hotel, and as a mini-cab driver looking forvulnerable customers who in his words have been ‘letdown by the system’.
Their friendship gets them intotrouble, 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 becomesthe vulnerable ‘customer’.
This British-funded film, directed by Stephen Frears(he of My Beautiful Laundrette and a personalfavourite of mine: The Van), is rather unkind to theBritish. Firstly, London is painted as a terribleunkind city where sex, prostitution, rape and sexualand racist exploitation are the norm (call me naive,but there is more to London than this).
There are onlythree Brit characters, consisting of two nasty bulliesworking for the UK Immigration Service, and thebiggest nasty of all of them (spoiler alert): thehuman organ dealer. The rest of the characters are allimmigrants in some way, from the innocent young Senayat the bottom of the food chain up to the powerfulSpanish owner of the hotel in which she works as amaid.
The Brits are unquestionably portrayed as thepowerful figures and enforcers, while the immigrantsare all seen as a generic underclass working for theirmasters. Such casting and plotlines detailing theunderground legal and illegal immigration ‘underworld’of the system – a trait lauded by reviewers and filmenthusiasts as being almost revolutionary in film- isperhaps where the film is let down the most.
In whatis most definitely a immigraxploitation pic (niceword, eh!), nothing is left to subtlety or theimagination- we are spoon-fed a hatred of the’system’, and most importantly we are not allowed tothink freely about the important political and ethicalissues involved. Yet a huge contradiction exists dueto the wonderfully smooth editing and quasi-foreignmusic that pervades, which constantly makes us feel asthough what we are seeing is purely ‘entertainment’ tobe enjoyed.
That said, Audrey Tautou and Chiwetel Ejiofor(currently starring in The Vortex at London’s DonmarWarehouse) are truly magnificent as the leads, andreally do give everything they can to their parts.