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Once Upon a Time in the Midlands

20 customer reviews

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(Feb 10, 2004)
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Editorial Reviews

Once Upon a Time in the Midlands is credited as the closing part in a loosely connected trilogy by director Shane Meadows. A Room for Romeo Brass (1999) and Twenty Four Seven (1997) preceded it, and ultimately the viewer will be hard-pressed to discern more than the British Midlands locale linking them together. That and the generally grim tone. Here we have what boils down to a tale of a girl (Shirley Henderson) who can't decide between two guys (her ex, Robert Carlyle, or her current boyfriend, Rhys Ifans). Wrapped up in some easy comedy and framed in the occasional nod to the spaghetti Western genre, the movie initially has plenty in its favor. Unfortunately, the intrusion of a B-plot involving some Scottish thugs overpowers the more pleasant family portrait. As a result, the stellar performances by Kathy Burke and Ricky Tomlinson get lost in the drama of the love triangle. After swinging back and forth indecisively, Shirley's conclusion to the tale doesn't have the emotional punch that it should have. This third Midlands tale may be the most accessible in terms of familiar characters and aspects of contemporary British life, but what it isn't is the kind of escapist movie experience suggested by its title. --Paul Tonks

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Robert Carlyle, Rhys Ifans, Kathy Burke, Vanessa Feltz, Ricky Tomlinson
  • Directors: Shane Meadows
  • Writers: Shane Meadows, Paul Fraser
  • Producers: Andrea Calderwood, Claire Hunt, Hanno Huth, James Wilson, Louise Knight
  • Format: Anamorphic, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
  • Subtitles: Spanish, French, Portuguese
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 1 encoding (US and Canada only)
    Some Region 1 DVDs may contain Regional Coding Enhancement (RCE). Some, but not all, of our international customers have had problems playing these enhanced discs on what are called "region-free" DVD players. For more information on RCE, click .
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures
  • DVD Release Date: February 10, 2004
  • Run Time: 104 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00011V8J0
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,553 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Once Upon a Time in the Midlands" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 23, 2004
Format: DVD
Though the title sounds like a Sergio Leone film, or any Italian made Westerns, 'Once Upon a Time in Midlands' is a low-key British comedy-drama starring Robert Carlyle ('Full Monty'), Kathy Burke (Nil By Mouth'), Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle in 'Harry Potter'), and Rhys Ifans ('Notting Hill'). Opinions divide among the viewers, especially the critics who find similar themes in recent UK films -- like gangsters -- but the similarity is only on the surface.

Robert Carlyle is a Scotsman Jimmy, who happens to have see his ex-wife Shirley (Shirley Henderson) on TV show (imagine British Jerry Springer show). There, another guy, Welshman Dek (surprisingly normal Ifans) asks Shirley to marry him, holding a bundle of flowers. Contrary to his expectations, he is rejected. Now that's a sign for Jimmy to reclaim the once lost love.

From Glasgow (where he is involved in a petty crime such as robbing clowns), Jimmy returns Shirley's home in the Midlands (part located in north of London). Can he get back her love? Or her daughter who considers Dek is her father? And what will those three criminals do, who follow Jimmy from Scotland to this town? Can Dek hold his own, and keep Shirley's love to the end?

It is not hard to tell the outcomes, and you know the answer. Kathy Burke plays the nagging middle-aged woman who loves bingo games, uses very bad languages, but still has a heart of gold. Carlyle is also the same kind of guy you saw in 'Trainspotting' -- when he is in good mood, he could be a nice guy, but potentially he could raise hell, and we know it. I don't say they are typecast; but some might think so.

But at the heart of the film there is a generous, feel-good mood, which manage to raise the film one notch up above the average British films.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By EriKa on March 15, 2005
Format: DVD
Robert Carlyle is brilliant in this kind of role-violent, shiftless, abusive guy who somehow lulls those closest to him into a certain blindness and obeisance to his brutality. He reappears on the scene in his ex-girlfriend's life when he sees quiet, mild-mannered Dek (Rhys Ifans) proposing to Shirley on a tv talk show. When she refuses the proposal, Jimmy (Carlyle) sees it as his grand opportunity to claim the one who got away. Shirley is portrayed by Shirley Henderson, who seems to pop up in small, unusual but often pivotal roles (24 Hour Party People, for example). When Jimmy resurfaces, Dek cowers, backs down, not fighting for the woman he loves, much to the disappointment of Shirley's precocious child, who considers Dek her father.

Eventually Dek finds his nerve and sends Jimmy packing, but only once he hits rock bottom and decided to take what's rightfully his-not by resorting to stupidity but by using his love, sensitivity and stability.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Trevor Willsmer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 15, 2006
Format: DVD
From the days when it was a legal requirement to cast either Robert Carlyle or Rhys Ifans if you wanted to get lottery funding for a British film, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands is another in Shane Meadows' line of deeply disappointing films before he finally came into his own with Dead Man's Shoes. To be fair, the project went through major development Hell, and the results are all too obvious in the sketchy construction and characterization. Carlyle's bad boy spurred into winning back his wife Shirley Henderson (sporting the most irritating little girly voice in history) from nice guy Ifans after seeing her on a daytime TV show is never really developed or even properly introduced, and the plot, such as it is, doesn't get going until the movie is half over. The tone is awkward, with Carlyle opting for convincingly unpleasant naturalism while Ifans lapses too often into sitcom acting, leaving the acting honors to go to Kathie Burke. There are a couple of excellent moments at a park bandstand and a final confrontation that hint at a better film that could have been, but it's all too easy to share Meadows' own disappointment with the film as a whole.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By dd on February 25, 2015
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Love this film! Robert Carlyle is in his typical sexy bad guy role and the rest of the cast along with the script is hilarious. As with most of Carlyle films, it is sometimes hard to understand the accent. It's also kinda cool to see Hamish and Elizabeth together again as Jimmy and Shirley.
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By MadMacs on November 21, 2014
Format: DVD
A boilerplate tale of a shady character attempting to go back home; a chance to restart his life with the woman and child he abandoned almost a decade previous.

Jimmy, played by wonderful actor Robert Carlyle, is a generic two-bit thief and overall loser. He's part of a crew that does strong arm takedowns of fellow nogoodniks so that the police don't get involved.

After one such botched robbery, the entire gang is pinched, save Jimmy himself.

And now he's holding onto a large satchel of cash.

Bonehead that he is, the man isn't known for thinking things through. Such as asking, "Suppose like all of our previous jobs the so-called 'victims', fellow scumbags, won't request prosecution?" Meaning his fellow gang members will be summarily released from custody.

Long-term planning isn't exactly Jimmy's forté. And that's a forerunner to the plot itself.

Having ditched his loving girlfriend and infant daughter - inconceivably, he actually believes that suddenly showing up with a fat wallet will magically fix his absence from their lives.

No surprise, she didn't wait. Now involved with Dek, a gangly milquetoast. Not particularly handsome, wealthy, or exciting - all the things that can be ascribed to her old beau - at least he's stable, hard working, and honest.

Can Shirley see beyond her rose-tinted spectacles and the high energy impact of Jimmy's return?

Director Meadow's carefully laid construction - showcasing Dek as a blundering and weak man draws us into the same emotional vortex that Shirley is experiencing. Followed by the slow development and ultimate revelation that Jimmy is, and always was, emotionally dysfunctional and a wreck of a human being.
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