FILM / Stripped of the bare necessities: Life, says Adam Mars- Jones, is anything but sweet in Mike Leigh's new film, Naked

Mike Leigh's Naked represents a strong reaction away from the lightness and charm of his last film, Life Is Sweet. It would be hard to imagine a film much sourer than Naked, but sourness is not a fault, merely a characteristic. Hollowness, now, self-indulgence, a sort of gloating emotional ugliness - those are faults.

The film follows the adventures in London of a young man from Manchester called Johnny (David Thewlis), who pays a call on an old girlfriend, Louise (Lesley Sharp), unannounced, and becomes sexually involved with another woman, Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge), who wears mainly torn fishnet, temporarily resident at the same address. Johnny chooses to spend the night on the streets after poisoning any welcome he might have had at his old flame's place of residence. He came south in a car, but no reference is made to that from the moment he parks it. He could go somewhere else, he could sleep in it, if need be in the morning he could sell it, but no. The car has not been invited to take part in the improvisation sessions of the Leigh method, and for cinematic purposes has ceased to exist.

It's a new departure for a Mike Leigh film to be so dominated by a single character, and Johnny's worldview goes pretty much uncontested. It helps that he's the only one who has a worldview, with the possible exception of a night-watchman implausibly attuned to Johnny's preoccupations, except for not being particularly clever or funny. Johnny's worldview is sardonic, virtually nihilistic and highly artificial. No matter to whom he's talking, and whether he's exhausted or indeed injured, he produces downbeat wisecracks in a steady flow. In the short term these are amusing, in the long run merely irritating, and though irritation has always been a permissible reaction to Leigh's films - so often his characters exist on the edge of caricature - never before has it been compulsory.

Another novelty in Naked is the amount of sex, virtually all of it amounting to genital expression of men's hatred. Besides Johnny there is Jeremy (Greg Cruttwell), a sadistic yuppy. Anyone who remembers the yuppy characters in High Hopes, who had a class-bound way of doing everything, even going upstairs, may be prepared for Jeremy, but anyone else is likely to be mystified. What's the point of a three-month rehearsal period when you can just go along to Oxford Street and have a T-shirt printed with the words 'SADISTIC YUPPY' while you wait?

Jeremy's character is no more rounded than that. He goes to the gym, he drinks champagne, he has a car phone. But the details that aren't stereotypical are nonsensical: he drives an A-reg car and he leaves pounds 380 in cash as humiliating compensation after brutalising Sophie.

Both Jeremy and Johnny are vile to women, but where Jeremy's cruelty is a pure expression of privilege, we are encouraged to think that Johnny's cruelty is a cry of pain. If you believe that, you'll believe anything. Either that or Leigh is saying with equally crude manipulativeness, that's how men are. Naked certainly doesn't show women the way they are, unless women are inert masochists who may or may not even notice they've been raped. A character whose fakeness almost eclipses Jeremy's is Sandra (Claire Skinner), the nurse who owns the flat where Louise lives (and Sophie crashes), and returns from holiday in Zimbabwe to find her home in turmoil. Sandra is given a foolish costume (bush hat, shorts, socks and sandals), a silly posh girly voice, choppy hand gestures, a habit of not finishing her sentences and an implausibly dated vocabulary ('I don't need all of this palaver', 'it's the tin lid'). The only remotely subtle bit of characterisation on offer is the presence in the bathroom of an NHS Property towel.

Naked, with its London locations and its emphasis on social casualties, on the walking wounded of the inner city, would seem at first sight to belong to a particular British tradition of downbeat realism. But when at a late stage of the film Sophie, the mumbling Goth, mentions that she once had a lover in Paris who was a philosopher, or when an ageing prostitute turns out to have a tiny library that includes both Emma and The Godfather, we know that realism isn't in it. Viewers of Naked are in fact being offered a highly specific set of distortions. The most noticeable consequence is that anyone with a career or even a job is regarded as inauthentic by definition.

This tendency is not altogether new: fans of Life Is Sweet may remember that the sister who was a plumber was treated with respect, while the entrepreneur played by Timothy Spall was a complete grotesque. To be disaffected, to be a misfit, on the other hand, is in Naked to be existentially real.

If this is part of Leigh's ideology, then it is a hypocritical one, since he is himself a successful small businessman. But there may be a more eccentric explanation. Time to take a deep breath. This review is about to enter, on tiptoe, two areas of near-taboo in criticism of Mike Leigh - his method of structured improvisation, and his class consciousness - and to try and find a link between them.

Anyone involved in a Leigh film offers the rigour of his working methods as a sort of guarantee of the truthfulness of the end product, while at the same time it is illegitimate for a critic to pronounce on the method as opposed to its results. But when what appears on screen is not just untruthful but crashingly untruthful, it's impossible not to speculate.

When Greg Cruttwell is on screen he seems to be approaching every action with reference to his character's status: how does a sadistic yuppy enter a room? (With a cruel smile.) How does a sadistic yuppy go to sleep? (With an empty bottle of champagne.)

Claire Skinner is similarly determined, hellbent on producing a performance that will say patronising nurse, like a stick of rock, wherever it is sliced.

Conversely, dispossession for the character translates into freedom for the actor. Johnny is far from his home, he doesn't have a job, a history or any context of relationships, and so David Thewlis can go to town with him.

Language only betrays the status- bound characters Jeremy and Sandra, but Johnny's use of language is his essence, and Sophie has only a little less freedom to invent herself.

The film that results from the collision of these incompatible acting exercises is, among other things, much too long. It could lose 20 minutes and still not seem short. The actresses playing Louise and Sophie make the most impression; they achieved the grinding familiarity of people you don't like but are going to have to deal with somehow, as if you'd married into a family and found yourself saddled with them as in-laws.

From Johnny, though, for all the perverse love that actor and director have lavished on him, it is easy to get the emotional equivalent of a quickie divorce.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

Arts and Entertainment

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map