Son of a gun

Movie: Once Upon a Time in the Midlands

Our Rating: 3.50

Writer/director Shane Meadows' "Once Upon a Time in the Midlands" superimposes spaghetti-Western plot dynamics (and soundtrack music to match) on the distinctly non-cowboy landscape of present-day Nottingham. But the movie owes as much to the freakery of daytime TV as it does to the legacy of Men with No Name.

Our heroes are an extended family of working stiffs whose lives start to come apart when they appear together on an ambush-format chat show. In a personal-best demonstration of cojones, sheepish garage manager Dek (Rhys Ifans) pops the question to his live-in love, Shirley (Shirley Henderson) -- only to be turned down flat. Humiliated before the entire world -- or at least that portion of the world that watches U.K. Springer knockoffs -- Dek sinks into hollow-eyed self-pity, certain that Shirley is about to dump him for good.

That may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but Dek's cause certainly isn't aided by the re-emergence of Jimmy (Robert Carlyle), the small-time hood who fathered Shirley's daughter and then split for Scotland. Coming upon the nationally broadcast turndown, Jimmy sees it as his cue to re-enter Shirley's orbit and reclaim her for good. But first, he has to get away from his criminal compatriots, an oafish lot who haven't quite got the hang of working in disguise (and who, memorably, fight pitched turf battles with a gang that dresses as circus clowns).

The inevitable showdown between Dek and Jimmy is all very pat, but the cast fleshes out Meadows' thin storyline with some comically rich character work. Ricky Tomlinson has some good moments as Charlie, the semi-estranged husband of Dek's foster sister. (Well, we said it was an "extendedÃ? family.) Often seen on the toilet, Charlie is the best darn country singer in the Midlands. Then again, it helps that he appears to have no competition whatsoever.

Anyone with a soft spot for milquetoasts will respond instinctively to Ifans' portrayal of Dek, a basset-faced coward who lets his insecurities get the better of him. As for Carlyle, his stew-thick brogue is a compelling argument for subtitles. I think I caught one out of his every four words.


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Orlando Weekly works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Central Florida.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Orlando’s true free press free.