Once Upon a Time in the Midlands

By Chris Tait

Dusty town roads, deserted streets, tumbleweeds, spittoons and showdowns. The bad guy always gets what’s coming to him, and the good guy always gets the girl.

Shane Meadows’ Once Upon A Time In The Midlands brings back the nostalgia of all those old flicks featuring Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, and… Hugh Grant?

I know, you’re thinking: "What the heck is this guy talking about? Hugh Grant isn’t a Western star," while an old familiar tune plays in the back of your mind."One of these things is not like the other…"

Bear with me.

When Dek (Rhys Ifans) gets turned down for marriage by Shirley (Shirley Henderson) on national television, ex-hubby Jimmy (Robert Carlyle) decides to try and win her back. When he gets into town, despite his kind of nerdy and clumsy ways, Dek realizes he’s not going to let Jimmy steal his girl.

"The basic premise here is bad guy comes back, tries to destroy everything and gets run out of town on a rail," explains co-writer Paul Fraser.

So, while not entirely a Western, the basic premise is still there–the music, the suspense. Now, why an American Western would take place in suburban Britain, I have no idea, but whatever inspired this clashing of unlikelihood really worked out in the end for this pseudo-romantic-comedy.

"I remember the Westerns I saw on TV on Sunday afternoons," recalls director Shane Meadows. "My dad was out working all week and it was the only time I really sat down and bonded with him. They really stayed with me."

My only complaintis the mixture of your run-of-the-mill, fairly standard romantic comedy music into the soundtrack towards the end, straying from the great Western theme this film had going for it. Now, whether they wanted to contrast the Western theme with something "new" and "hip" (read: marketable), they should come to understand that just because Canada is west of Great Britain, it doesn’t make Sarah McLachlan "Western" music.

All musical transgressions aside, I have to say that I haven’t enjoyed a romantic comedy this much in a while. The characters are amazingly real and there are no moments of doubt where I asked myself (none too uncommonly with romantic comedies), "What the heck? Nobody would do that."

Though, it does make me think, "Silly Brits, Westerns are for the West."

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