Picks and Pans Review: My Beautiful Launderette a Letter to Brezhnev

updated 05/26/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/26/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Something exhilarating is afoot in British movies. Young filmmakers are beginning to examine the London working class with a vigor unfelt since the glory days of Room at the Top, This Sporting Life and A Taste of Honey a quarter of a century ago. My Beautiful Launderette, about the conflict between street punks and Pakistani immigrants in South London, makes most American teen films look like sitcom fodder. Written by playwright Hanif Kureishi, 29, the son of an English mother and Pakistani father, the film stars Gordon Warnecke as an ambitious 18-year-old Pakistani trying to make peace with his adopted country. Warnecke sees a chance of creating Utopia by turning a rundown launderette into a neon-lit social club. He enlists the help of his loutish male lover, astonishingly well acted by Daniel Day Lewis in a role strikingly different from that of the aesthete he portrayed in A Room With a View. For all the high-spirited wit conveyed by the actors under Stephen Frears' lively direction, the film's vision is bleak, though it does open up a world most of us know only from headlines. First-rate too is Letter to Brezhnev, adapted by Frank Clarke from his 1981 London play. Clarke, like director Chris Bernard and stars Alexandra Pigg and Margi Clarke (Frank's sister), is a member of Liverpool's Everyman Theatre, and all are making impressive screen debuts. Pigg and Clarke play two scrappy Liverpudlians, one on welfare, the other yanking out chicken gizzards for a living. Tottering on high heels, uttering dialects as thick as their makeup, these punk princesses pick up two Russian sailors at a club. Clarke simply beds her sailor (Alfred Molina), but Pigg sees her man, sensitively played by Peter (Equus) Firth, as the focus for all her romantic longings. When he returns to the Soviet Union, she writes a letter to Brezhnev asking permission to live there with the man she loves. Raunchy in the extreme, Letter to Brezhnev is also hilarious and heartbreaking. Pigg (who once wrestled pythons onstage) and Clarke (a punk comic on British TV) are both smashing. These two films have terrible titles and R ratings in common; they're also both terrific movies.

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