Frears’ 2002 film focuses on the usually unseen world of the capital’s illegal immigrants, the invisible people who keep its economy running smoothly.
Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Nigerian exile Okwe is one such person. By day he drives a minicab; at night he’s a porter in a hotel that’s home to some shady goings-on.
When Okwe stumbles upon the hotel’s dirty secret, he is placed in an impossible dilemma. A decent man, how can he do the right thing – given his precarious status – and still protect the people he cares about?
Interview with Frears:
When you make films about Britain, they’re always set among the working classes or, in this case, the under class. Why?
I just do scripts I like, it’s as simple as that. Although, I suppose I don’t find the idea of tea and cucumber sandwiches very interesting. That said, I was never asked to do “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, which I think is extremely good. I’ve never had to think about whether a film about the upper classes could be interesting.
You’ve discovered a brilliant new British leading man in Chiwetel Ejiofor. Would you take credit for that?
I was lucky. You think you’re going to get X and then you get 6X. But I wouldn’t want to be falsely innocent about it because I’ve done it quite a lot of times before. You just need to give people an opportunity. Daniel Day-Lewis knew, when he did “My Beautiful Laundrette”, that was what he’d been waiting for. That’s why he was so anxious to get the part. It was the same with Jack Black and “High Fidelity”.
You’ve said that the UK is being dragged, kicking and screaming, towards multiculturalism. Do you think we have become less accepting?
Parts of the UK are. I live in a multicultural part of London and it’s very interesting and I’m very pleased. I was politicised by Hanif Kureishi. My eyes were sort of opened for me when he wrote “My Beautiful Laundrette”. I was brought up in a completely white, middle class life. Since I opened up a little, it’s got much more interesting.
So why do you think some filmmakers seem reluctant to include ethnic characters in their work?
I don’t know, you’d have to ask them. I went to a lot of trouble to ethnically cleanse my film of all white people.