Nothing of interest happens in the midlands, but Shane Meadows somehow found a way to tell a rather enjoyable story of love, robberies and a cowboy.
Much like Trainspotting this film is very much a working class story, but set in Nottingham. Jimmy (Robert Carlyle) wakes up in Glasgow, living in squalor, to see his sister appear on a show that could only be described as an early noughties Jeremy Kyle. A humiliation of rejected proposal is shown across the nation, as Dek (Rhys Ifans) proposes to Shirley (Shirley Henderson).
Whilst Dek is being rejected, Jimmy is in cahoots with some Glaswegian bit-time crooks that have a knack for stealing the oddest cars going. The first being a stretch mini, the last being a truck with a boat attached to the back. The crooks target a group of clowns and steal a bag from them, in a scene that wouldn’t go amiss in the Arctic Monkey’s Flourescent Adolescent music video. Jimmy decides to take the bag and head for the hills, or rather Nottingham.
Arriving in Nottingham, with a bag that is full of cash, Jimmy has one goal. To win back the affections of his daughter, Marlene, and of course, the love of Shirley. Now from the usual love triangle when a child is involved, the returning competing father usually takes them on a whimsical day that is full of joy and over-consumption of father-daughter bonding scenes. Where does Jimmy take his daughter? To the pub.
By the way, this all stemmed from a relationship issue between Carol and Charlie, an estranged couple trying to mend their marriage via mainstream media.
Shane Meadows has excellently tapped into what families like this are actually like instead of vying for the perfect model family. He showed that typical families go to play bingo and spend nights down the local working men’s club to enjoy a boogie.
The love triangle between Shirley, Dek and Jimmy envelopes this film, but also the Glaswegian crews come a-knocking for Jimmy, which also causes a ruckus. Ifans, Carlyle and Henderson all have that certain chemistry, but also anticipate the awkwardness perfectly between the three during well-timed scenes throughout the film. The rest of the cast backed up by Ricky Tomlinson and Kathy Burke creates the believable working class hero triumph throughout the film, and there is no better man to play the villain then the Glaswegian Prince Robert Carlyle.
I thought it was strange for Meadows to name his Midlands based tale, Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, however, all becomes clear over the course of the film. Apart from the obvious Midlands Cowboy Charlie (Ricky Tomlinson) the music that is teased throughout the film has that Western-tinge to it and of course the general story framework, of the hero and villain, Dek and Jimmy, respectively.
Although I’m not entirely certain as to why Shane Meadows made a film regarding Nottingham and the Midlands as a whole, but I’m rather glad he did. Although the film has the romantic comedy story at the centre of it all, it doesn’t weigh to heavy on Once Upon a Time in the Midlands’ shoulders. Considering the onslaught of romantic comedies from the late 90s and early noughties being set in America or London, Meadows setting his in Nottingham is a refreshing change of pace. His choice to instil the comedic flair with Burke and Tomlinson was the correct choice, but also didn’t feel forced in anyway. Everything came natural and seemed natural, which I feel is one of the biggest triumphs of this film.