by: Jack Foley
"I THINK its about people who live lives of such
desperation," explains Oscar-winning High
Fidelity director, Stephen Frears, when asked to describe
his latest film, Dirty Pretty Things.
"As well as the wealthy society we live in, there are
also people who live their lives in despair. And I dont
think thats right. Well, I dont think anybody would
support that, but thats the way the world is, and it seems
to me that its not good for the world. Andit seems to me
that thats why people fly planes into buildings.
"We need to correct that despair. Its as though
nature is slightly out of balance. And if you create a society
with this level of imbalance, this is what happens. It doesnt
bear thinking about."
Strong, emotive stuff indeed. But a strong indication of what
to expect when going into Dirty Pretty Things, a thriller about
the plight of illegal immigrants/asylum seekers living in London,
which exposes the ruthless exploitation which so often takes place.
Frears film opened the 2002 London
Film Festival and was rightly praised for being gritty, pertinent
and thought-provoking. It also rates among the best British thrillers
of recent years and boasts two outstanding performances - from
West End theatre favourite, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Amelie
star, Audrey Tautou.
For Frears, though, the chance to take on Steven Knights
script was too challenging to resist, particularly as it enabled
him to return to the personal style of film-making that first
brought him to attention with films such as My Beautiful Laundrette
and Prick Up Your Ears.
"If youre after something thats fresh and
exciting, its not surprising that you end up in the immigrant
community," he explains. "It is new - it wasnt
there when I was a child.
"If you make films of Edwardian novels, then you dont
deal with that, but if your taste is for more modern things, thats
where youll go, because its where the biggest changes
in British society - well, London society - are happening. Thats
whats going on in modern British politics."
According to Smith, the brains behind TVs Who Wants To
Be A Millionaire?, one of the main strengths of Dirty Pretty Things
is that it is not a conventional, standard story by any
"Its dark and it tells a story about a part of
London wed rather not admit exists, but in some way we all
benefit from whenever we visit certain hotels and restaurants,"
he explains. "And yet we ignore those people, because theyre
in the shadows.
"So, it also has quite a message in it, about the exploitation
of people who find themselves illegally in the UK and are forced,
against their will in some cases, to carry out jobs they would
prefer not to do.
"Aside from that, though, its a story with lots
of twists and turns which will have audiences on the edge of their
Frears concurs, referring to the film as a gothic horror
story and one which exposes the underside of London,
as well as taking a look at how Britain has become multi-cultural.
"America has sort of done it already," continues
the director. "You go to New York and its full of Koreans
and Puerto Ricans or whatever.
"And, really, whats happening in Britain is that
its becoming a multi-cultural society - with a certain amount
of kicking and screaming - and some people are struggling. So,
yes, its full of multiple identities and multiple cultures."
To reflect this, Frears turned to a multi-cultural cast, enlisting
the likes of Tautou and Ejiofor early on.
"Minorities are beginning to appear more and more in
films," observes Frears, "and I was very aware that
last year, actors like Benicio Del Toro, Javier
Bardem and Don Cheadle were really starting to make their
"So the idea of not using what you might call conventional
actors was interesting to me, and gradually the idea of casting
Frears cast the French actress even before he had seen Amelie
and, although tentative at first, Tautou was keen to take on a
character she describes as a modern young woman who just
wants to live her own life.
"Senay wants to go to New York because its her
dream, but shes prepared to do anything to get it,"
she explains. "She wants to have a different life than the
one shes got. But I dont think Senay is a survivor
in the tragic sense of the word - I dont think, poor
"I think she is strong, because she has to be strong
to leave what she has left behind
And even if this movie
has some romanticism, its not false."
For Ejiofor, who won the Outstanding Newcomer award in the London
Evening Standard Awards 2000, and who recently completed a sell-out
run as Christopher in Blue/Orange at the National Theatre, the
challenge of taking on the lead role of Okwe was equally immense.
"The main themes of the film are isolation and survival
instincts," he says. "Most of the main characters are,
in some ways, totally isolated. Theyre isolated as people,
theyre isolated in terms of circumstance. In Okwes
case, hes an illegal immigrant and variously ignored by
the indigenous populations - apart from governmental forces, who
want to arrest him.
"He is also isolated because hes pretending to
be something hes not. Hes playing a character, and
thats another theme of the piece: role-playing. In certain
circumstances, people will take on another persona in order to
survive from moment to moment," he adds.