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Once Upon a Time in the Midlands (2002)

2:18 | Trailer
After seeing his ex-girlfriend (Henderson) turn down a nationally televised marriage proposal, a small-time crook (Carlyle) returns to his hometown to try and win back her heart.


Shane Meadows
2 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Robert Carlyle ... Jimmy
Vanessa Feltz Vanessa Feltz ... Vanessa
Ricky Tomlinson ... Charlie
Kathy Burke ... Carol
Vicki Patterson Vicki Patterson ... Audience Guest
Shirley Henderson ... Shirley
Finn Atkins ... Marlene
Kelly Thresher Kelly Thresher ... Donna
Rhys Ifans ... Dek
Andrew Shim ... Donut
Ryan Bruce Ryan Bruce ... Emerson
Eliot Otis Brown Walters ... Lake
Antony Strachan ... Jumbo
David McKay David McKay ... Dougy (as David Mckay)
James Cosmo ... Billy


Originally from the Midlands, Jimmy is currently living in Glasgow eking out a living as a hapless petty crook. One day, he sees his old family and friends - including his older foster sister Carol, her boyfriend/his old buddy Charlie, Jimmy's ex-wife and Carol's best friend Shirley, and Jimmy's pre-teen daughter Marlene - on a television talk show, they baring their souls to a national audience. He has not seen any of them in years. Of note on the show, Shirley rejects the marriage proposal of her slightly awkward live-in boyfriend Dek. Jimmy sees her answer to Dek as a reason to head back to the Midlands to reunite with his past, especially with Shirley and Marlene. Dek, already humiliated, is less than thrilled to see Jimmy back in their lives. In the ensuing duel between Jimmy and Dek for Shirley and Marlene's affections, others get caught up in the crossfire. Meanwhile, three of Jimmy's equally hapless crook friends from Glasgow come looking for him, Jimmy who left them high and ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


A tinned spaghetti western


Comedy | Drama | Romance

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »


Official Sites:

Sony Pictures Classics


UK | Germany



Release Date:

6 September 2002 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Once Upon a Time in the Midlands See more »


Box Office


GBP1,950,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$21,475, 31 August 2003

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Dek (Rhys Ifans) drives a car with a vintage Welsh number plate from the late fifties, the letters of which read "DEK". It was issued in Haverfordwest, the birthplace of Rhys Ifans. See more »


Dek: I'm nothing like Jimmy.
Marlene: Jimmy left. You're leaving. What's the difference?
Dek: I don't want to go.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Special thanks to ... the People of Carlton and Gedling, Nottingham ... See more »


References Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) See more »


Written by Larry Brown and Steve Cropper
Used by kind permission of Rondor Music London Ltd. on behalf of Irving Music Inc.
Performed by Wendy Rene
By Arrangement with Warner Special Products/Warner Strategic Marketing UK
See more »

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User Reviews

a curate's egg from a national treasure
4 September 2002 | by dannyellSee all my reviews

Respect is definitely due to Mr Meadows. He has made films about Britain that qualify as top notch cinema. He is a true artist - he portrays conflict both within and between people with his own style and bizarreness. He is making films about the people that fill British streets but do not on the whole have their own biographical art. His insistent use of everyday public and private space (the yellow brick semi, the grubby flat, the suburban street, the dilapidated bunch of in-town shops) gives his films a hyper-realistic, hallucinatory quality, like memories of childhood made flesh again.

The kaleidoscope of humour that dazzles the viewer of `A Room For Romeo Brass' or the first half of `Once upon a time.' is a gorgeous normality - a concentrated sniff of the glue that keeps working people and families together. These films know that this humour is an art form - akin to any other kind of oral culture through history, its purpose is to give its user's lives meaning, be it while fighting predators, invaders or the daily grind.

Meadows' plots are more overtly psycho-political than socio-political: the evil and darkness in his film comes from the past, from childhood. The families affected by that darkness tend to be the source of light and laughter which combats the darkness. Parents on-screen are loving and nurturing - it is orphans, or offspring of violent parents that bring this darkness from their off-screen histories to the films. This is where the dramatic power comes from - when Morrel in `Romeo Brass' alludes enigmatically to his violent father, our imaginations are left to their own devices. Similarly, though with less dramatic import, we are informed briefly in `once upon a time' that Jimmy is Carol's foster brother, and again we get that sense of how a fractured childhood creates a damaged adult.

Unfortunately Meadows cannot keep the dramatic quality up in `once upon a time' in the same way that he did to such devastating effect in `24-7' and `Romeo Brass'. The cowboy conceit that is one of the strands of amusement and pleasure in the film's first half gets strangely discarded just as it might be most effective - when Dek the cowardly geek finds his manhood. It is replaced by a strangely witless and conformist soap opera seriousness as the two dads tussle for one family. The surrealist streaks are still there (for instance Jimmy's penchant for haircuts, which I'm sure says a lot about his character) but the overall feel is that Meadows and his co-writer Paul Fraser repressed what had previously made the characters interesting in a kind of commercial dumbing-down attempt. `If Eastenders can get 19 million people watching it 3 times a week', they seem to have reasoned, `Then surely we can get some of that Ganesh magic to rub off on us'.

In the light of public indifference to Meadows' previous two glorious films, though, you have to be sympathetic to this. And it's worth watching for the first two thirds, some lovely acting (particularly by Rhys Ifans) and a kind of existential glow that I seem to get from Meadows' films and which makes him a top director in my book.

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