Naked (film)

Naked (film)
For other uses of naked(ness), see Naked (disambiguation)

Criterion Collection DVD cover for Naked
Directed by Mike Leigh
Produced by Simon Channing-Williams
Written by Mike Leigh
Starring David Thewlis
Lesley Sharp
Katrin Cartlidge
Music by Andrew Dickson
Cinematography Dick Pope
Editing by Jon Gregory
Distributed by Fine Line Features
Release date(s) 1993
Running time 131 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $1,769,306 (USA)

Naked is a 1993 British film directed by Mike Leigh. Before this film, Leigh was known for subtler comedic dissections of middle-class and working-class manners. Naked was more stark and brutal than his previous works. Leigh relied heavily on improvisation in the making of the film, but little actual ad-libbing was filmed; lengthy rehearsals in character provided much of the script. Almost all of the dialogue was filmed as written. The film received largely favourable reviews.



After a sexual encounter with a married woman in an alley in Manchester turns into a rape, Johnny (David Thewlis) steals a car and flees for Dalston, 'a scrawny, unpretentious area' in the east of London, to seek refuge with his former girlfriend, fellow Mancunian Louise (Lesley Sharp).

Intelligent, educated and eloquent, Johnny is also deeply embittered and egotistical, fighting and provoking anyone he meets in order to prove his superiority. His behaviour is reckless, self-destructive and at times even sadistic; he seduces Louise's flatmate, Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge), simply because he can, but soon gets tired of her and embarks on an extended latter-day odyssey among the destitute and despairing of the United Kingdom's capital city.

During his encounters in London's seedy underbelly, Johnny expounds his world-view (which in different instances seems to be fatalist, nihilist or transhumanist) at long and lyrical length to anyone who will listen, whether Archie, a Scottish boy he comes across in Brewer Street yelling 'Maggie!' at the top of his voice, or Brian, a security guard, of acres of empty space, a 'post-Modernist gas chamber', "whom Johnny marks down as indeed possessing the most tedious job in the world."[1] All the while, the sinister presence of his ex-girlfriend's psychopathic landlord, Jeremy (Greg Cruttwell), lurks in the background. Johnny eventually suffers horribly at the hands of thugs in the most casual manner; and when the primary tenant of the flat (Claire Skinner) returns from a trip overseas, Johnny is compelled to leave, to throw himself back into the world as he has ostensibly done so many times before.

It is subtly hinted throughout the movie that Johnny's unusual personality and behavior could be the result of a variety of (presumably undiagnosed and untreated) medical conditions, including manic depression and whatever it is that causes him to experience episodic, severe headaches. These conditions are certainly affecting him physically; one of the characters he meets thinks he is about 40 years old, when he is actually only 27.

Main cast


Sheridan Morley described Johnny as, "Alfie in the grips of Thatcherite depression", - thus, according to the critic Michael Coveney, "cross fertilising Bill Naughton's chirpy cockney Lothario, immortalised by Michael Caine, with the dark sinister disaffection of the new underclass - a neat way of indicating that the Swinging Sixties had degenerated into the nauseated Nineties."[2] Leigh had captured, according to Coveney, something of the anxiety, rootless cynicism, and big-city disaffection of the time.

Thewlis's background reading for the part of Johnny included Voltaire's Candide, the teachings of Buddha and James Gleick's Chaos.[3]

Other echoes, cinematic and literary, that critics have detected in the film include William Shakespeare's Hamlet and Jean Renoir's Boudu Saved from Drowning (one of Leigh's favourite films).[4] Shakespeare's hero is marked by "talking incessantly to the audience and assuming a dominance over other characters through expressions of mania, and rapid, witty speech. Thewlis, ... wrapped like Hamlet in a black and inky coat, [is similarly] socially untethered but burdened with useless knowledge and a vicious, bullying line in repartee." Of the precedent of 'idiosyncratic, character-driven film-making' in Renoir's Boudu, Michael Coveney has observed: "Both Naked and Boudu explore the tension between the domesticated and the anarchic (this is a central theme, probably the theme running through Leigh's work), and focus this tension in the tragi-comedy of a central character."[5]

In 1965 Leigh had teamed up with David Halliwell, hired the Unity Theatre for a fortnight, and directed the first production of Halliwell's Little Malcolm and his Struggle Against the Eunuchs. According to Coveney, "Malcolm Scrawdyke is clearly a precursor of Johnny in Naked. Scrawdyke was a loutish art student and absurd ideologue from Huddersfield who had trouble with girls and a hatred for his teachers...the play shared a deeply felt schoolboy coarsenness with Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, a piece originally written as a vicious attack on a loathed mathematics master."[6]

The song sung by Johnny and Louise near the film's end, "Take me back to Manchester when it's raining," was one Leigh used to sing with his friends in Habonim ('the Builders'), the international socialist Jewish youth movement he joined as a schoolboy. After the film was released Leigh heard from a retired schoolmaster at Stand Grammar in Prestwich who had written the song for a school review in 1950.[7]


Julie Burchill attacked the film in the Sunday Times, saying that Leigh's characters talked like lobotomized Muppets; they talked, she said, "sub-wittily, the way Diane Arbus's subjects look." And Suzanne Moore in The Guardian criticized the lethargic females whose lives Johnny routinely ruins: "What sort of realism is this? To show a misogynist and surround him with such walking doormats has the effect, intentional or not, of justifying this behaviour." Lesley Sharp (Louise) responded: "There are a lot of people who don't go to art house cinemas who do have deeply troubled lives and are at risk....We do actually live in a misogynistic, violent society and there are a lot of women in abusive relationships who find it very difficult to get out of them. And a lot of men, too." Coveney denied the relevance of the criticism: "Is there no room for irony, for the idea that in depicting horror in the sex war an artist is exposing them, not endorsing them? And who says that Sophie is an unwilling doormat or that Louise is a doormat at all? It is clear that the latter is taking serious stock of her relationship with Johnny. She exhibits both patience and tenderness in her dealings with him, whereas she finally pulls a knife on Jeremy."[8]

Awards and nominations


  1. ^ Coveney, p.25
  2. ^ Michael Coveney, The World According to Mike Leigh, p.19, Harper Collins, 1996
  3. ^ Coveney, p. 27
  4. ^ Coveney, p.32
  5. ^ Coveney, p.21, p32,
  6. ^ Coveney, p.67-68
  7. ^ Coveney, p.29
  8. ^ Coveney, p.33-34
  9. ^ a b c "Festival de Cannes: Naked". Retrieved 2009-08-22. 

Further reading

  • Catterall, Ali; Wells, Simon (2001). Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since the Sixties. London: Fourth Estate. ISBN 978-1841152035. 
  • Coveney, Michael (1996). The world according to Mike Leigh. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0002555180. 

External links

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