Directed by Mike Leigh.
Starring David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp and Ewen Bremner.
Naked follows Johnny (Thewlis) a highly articulate and intelligent loner who drifts through the backstreets of London taking part in violent sex, living on the streets and eloquently engaging everyone in conversation to completely different reactions from each stranger.
Naked is the dark and turgid story of Johnny, played by David Thewlis. Fleeing revenge for the apparent rape of a woman in Manchester, Johnny steals the girl’s family car and drives to London to meet his ex-girlfriend Louise. Johnny enters into a drifter lifestyle as he stalks through the streets of London at night, engaging in violent sex with anyone that he can seduce including Louise’s gothic and lonely housemate Sophie, who quickly falls in love with him. Johnny is an intelligent but disturbed man with apparent mental as well as physical illnesses which are referred to in the film but are never revealed. It is clear though that Johnny is an extremely troubled man with no direction in life.
Writer and director Mike Leigh presents us with this troubled character and veers away from the classical narrative of Johnny ‘finding himself’ for the better in this film; instead he portrays Johnny as he continues his destructive actions all the way until the climax of this disheartening story. The film’s dialogue was developed in a particularly unusual way with Thewlis improvising almost the entirety of his lines in rehearsals, which were later written into script format by Leigh before filming began. This surely enabled Leigh and Thewlis to construct the lead protagonist in precisely the way they wanted to present him. This style of developing a script and characters is one that has become associated with Leigh, as he uses his experience of directing in theatres and translates this to his work in film.
Although Naked is not Leigh’s best known or celebrated film – with titles such as Secrets and Lies (1996), Topsy-Turvy (1999), Vera Drake (2004) and most recently, Happy Go Lucky (2008) among his credits – Naked is considered by many Leigh enthusiasts (myself included) as his sharpest, most poignant film, and therefore his best work. Like all of his films Leigh once again enters into the British genre of ‘kitchen-sink realism’, low budget stories depicting social realism – a movement which Leigh, in addition to fellow British director Ken Loach, have become the faces for.
Naked is such a stark and brutal film, dealing with themes of violence, theft, rape and even characters’ own mortality. Johnny is a violent, immoral character, although the audience is led to sympathise with him as he is cruelly beaten twice, and also because of the character of Jeremy. Although Jeremy has limited camera time he leaves a lasting expression as a materialistic businessman and landlord to Louise and Sophie. He is presented as having no redeeming features at all, Leigh ensuring that the wealthy character is portrayed in as negative light as possible, indulging in more on-screen violent rape than Johnny. The style of portraying the upper class negatively in comparison to the working class is once again a trend in the kitchen-sink realist genre of British cinema, often displaying the working class with much more depth of character than enjoyed by the upper class characters. Leigh characterises his lower class characters with far more affection and detail, therefore ensuring the audience are always drawn towards these people above the wealthier ones.
Overall Naked is an astonishingly original film, depicting a bleak and vicious London of which Mancunian scoundrel Johnny seems only a small part of the problem. The movie offers very little for the audience to smile about, apart from a few witty comments from Johnny, sarcastically undermining other characters at every opportunity. What Leigh and Thewlis have created together defies the idea that the conventional film is the superior, each rewarded with their efforts achieving Best Director and Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival, and rightly so. Naked leaves viewers with a bitter taste in their mouths, desperate to discover more of Johnny’s turbulent life while unable to stomach his actions and depression-ridden thoughts.