Dirty Pretty Things

Stephen Frears's ‘Dirty Pretty Things'

Movie stars tend to fall into two groups-chameleons, who assume a different persona with each new role, and constants, who play themselves, or some version of themselves, over and over. (Think Meryl Streep versus Katharine Hepburn, Dustin Hoffman versus Marlon Brando.) The same holds for directors. British director Stephen Frears is a chameleon whose films range widely not only in subject and setting, but in tone. From the cool cynicism of Dangerous Liaisons to the rowdy Dublin humor of The Snapper, the warmth of High Fidelity to the turbulent rancor of Sammy and Rosie Get Laid: watch a number of Frears films and try to discover a recognizable signature. There’s something there, but you’re hard-pressed to say what.

Frears has been around a long time. After studying law at Cambridge in the early 1960s, he switched to film and landed at the BBC, building a sturdy résumé of TV films throughout the 1970s. In 1985, writer Hanif Kureishi came along with a script about a young Anglo-Pakistani and a Cockney punk who get together to run a London laundromat. My Beautiful Laundrette trolled the blighted margins of Thatcher’s England for tough-tender stories of outsiders-immigrants, skinheads and squatters, an interracial gay couple-while showing its British audience whole precincts of London where they would be, in effect, foreigners. The film launched Daniel Day-Lewis’s career and transformed Frears’s, turning him into a...

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About the Author

Rand Richards Cooper is Commonweal's contributing editor.