NAKED

Early 1990s England was bruised and limping from the years the Conservatives had been in power – particularly the North, which had seen communities fractured and dispersed by mine closures and the weakening of the social safety net. Northerner Johnny finds himself in London: lost and drifting in an impervious city, like a ghost net drifting through the ocean, gathering corpses. 

 

For Johnny and Louise (played by David Thewlis and Lesley Sharp), the two Mancunians in Mike Leigh’s 1993 film Naked, London is no sunlit upland. The only sign of vegetation comes in the form of what British audiences will recognise as a young Spud: the indefatigable Ewen Bremner who plays a young Scot who, in one memorable scene, incessantly yells out into the street for his absent girlfriend, “MAGGIE!”, as if desperately trying to hail the last taxi out of Saigon.

Johnny makes his way through a series of encounters, mostly with women, in which he indulges his sexual desires and rails against the world. The restless dialogue plummets, then soars, from boredom to bewilderment. Sitting down with Sophie, Johnny addresses space exploration. “Tossing all these satellites and shuttles out into the cosmos!” he proclaims, “What are they going to find up there that they can’t find down here?” Down here, he implies, might not look so different to space: black, empty, hopelessly devoid of life. 

The abuses and misdemeanours he accuses the world over of, however, are nothing compared to Johnny’s own conduct. Scything through urban space like an unhinged Catherine wheel, the only permanent result is the injury to the women Johnny  hurts and then abandons. In the end though there is no doubt – Johnny himself has also been deformed by his self-hatred. This fin de siècle masterpiece makes clear: violence, carelessness and callousness betray the wielder as well as the victim. Would it be that others had learnt that lesson.