Drama, exposé, thriller, and more, this is a powerful film that grabs and holds you from beginning to surprise ending.
[In his weekly column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, and Scotland. Most are available on DVD and/or Netflix, and some episodes are on YouTube.]
Dirty, Pretty Things is a powerful 2002 British film, available on DVD, Netflix, and Netflix Instant streaming, about the harrowing challenges facing two undocumented immigrants who work at a posh London hotel and live in constant fear of deportation.
Former Nigerian physician Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Best Actor Oscar nominee for 12 Years a Slave) drives a cab in London by day and by night works at the front desk of a hotel run by Senor Sneaky (multiple award-winning Spanish actor Sergio López ).
The hotel is a locus of drug dealing and much, much worse. Prostitute Juliette (Sophie Okenedo, Oscar nom for Hotel Rwanda), who acts like an unofficial member of the staff, tells Okwe to check a room where she was staying, and he finds the toilet overflowing, blocked by a human heart.
The hotel manager, Juan, runs an illegal operation at the hotel wherein immigrants swap kidneys for forged passports. After learning of Okwe’s past as a doctor, Juan pressures him to join his operation as a surgeon.
Waldman’s film and TV treasures you may have missed
Senay (Audrey Tautou, great in her first English-speaking role) is a Turkish Muslim who also works at the hotel as a cleaner. She has a visa to stay in the UK providing she doesn’t work. Okwe sleeps on her sofa when she is out. Fleeing immigration inspectors, she goes to work in a garment sweatshop, where things go very badly for her.
An astonishing 97% of viewers polled at imdb.com gave the film thumbs-up, and it was strong with all demographics but best with females 45 and older. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 94%, based on 138 reviews.
Dirty, Pretty Things won the BAFTA (for Best British Film), Best British Independent Film, European Film Awards’ Best Film, two U.S. National Board of Review awards and San Diego Film Critics’ Best Picture. Ejiofor won five Best Actor awards and was nominated for six more for this role. Director Stephen Frears received two Best Director nods and another nom. Steven Knight took home four Best Screenplay awards (including the Humanitas Prize) and was nominated seven more times (including Oscar).
Other Acting awards and noms went to Tautou, Okenedo, López, and Benedict Wong. A Best Cinematography award went to Chris Menges. And the U.S. Political Film Society nominated it as Best Exposé.
In addition to honors for this film, director Frears was Oscar-nominated for The Queen and The Grifters and won 53 major awards and 53 other nominations for works including 2014 Best Picture Oscar nom Philomena, Oscar nominee My Beautiful Launderette, double-Oscar nom Mrs. Henderson Presents and three-Oscar nom Dangerous Liaisons.
In addition to his Oscar and BAFTA noms for this film, Knight was an award winner for penning Eastern Promises, Amazing Grace, Locke, and Canned Carrott. Cinematographer Chris Menges won two Oscars for The Mission and The Killing Fields, plus Oscar noms for Michael Collins and The Reader, as well as 22 other wins and 19 other nominations.
In addition to his Oscar and BAFTA Best Actor wins this year, Chiwetel Ejiofor has 28 wins and 42 noms for works including Talk to Me, Dancing on the Edge and Tsunami: The Aftermath). His co-star is one of my two favorite actresses, Audrey Tautou. She was nominated for BAFTAs for Amélie (a brilliant, must-see gem) and Coco Before Chanel and earned eight awards and 16 other noms for works including Venus Beauty Institute, A Very Long Engagement, and Priceless. Sophie Okonedo was Oscar-nominated for Hotel Rwanda and had four other honors and 18 more nominations.
Part anthropological documentary, part searing social drama, part thriller, and part unexpected love story, this outstanding film retains its unpredictability right up to its surprise ending. Stephen Frears crafted it with delicacy and intelligence. The script is brilliant, as are all the performances. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. If you missed it, you truly missed a treasure.
[Oregon writer and Houston native Alan Waldman holds a B.A. in theater arts from Brandeis University and has worked as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Honolulu magazine. Read more of Alan Waldman’s articles on The Rag Blog.]