Dear Mike Leigh: An angry filmgoer finds the director's latest movie a descent into naked misogyny
Friday 19 November 1993
I've seen all your other films, and I mostly like them, I really do. I'd also read the reviews, and so when I went to see Naked the other night, I expected to find it a bit of a departure from the suburban social satires of Abigail's Party and Life is Sweet that secured your reputation. And yes, the central performance by David Thewlis as Johnny, your splenetic rebel without a pause, is stunning.
The trouble is, Mike, that the way you've portrayed women in your film makes Michael Winner's Dirty Weekend look like an Andrea Dworkin tract. It's also interesting that, with their sights fixed on the holy grail of a Great British Art Movie, the same critics who slammed Dirty Weekend, not only as bad but misogynist, have glossed over the same sentiments here.
Louise, Johnny's ex-girlfriend, mops up Johnny's blood and bile and longs to have him back. Sophie, her gormless Goth flatmate, unwillingly submits to a bit of rough stuff with Johnny and then drapes herself all over him like a rag doll. When Johnny goes calling on a gin-soaked floozie, she too doesn't mind being slapped around in the process. One woman does send him packing, but not before we've seen just how neurotic she is. Then there's Jeremy, the vile yuppie, who brutalises a waitress, before subjecting the hapless Sophie to anal rape.
I realise that both Johnny and Jeremy are meant to be violent bastards and that you have to show that. Unlike the group of women sitting behind me who walked out of the cinema shouting 'Five pounds for five rapes', it's not the depiction of rape per se that I mind. But, like many of my female friends who've seen your film, I do share their anger.
You have said you wanted Naked to expose the post-feminist myth that women have been liberated from regressive male values. No doubt there are women like Sophie, who find unwashed invective like Johnny's irresistible. But you also say that 'my job is to put people on the screen the way people are'. Now Johnny may be a very Angry Young Man, but hasn't the way women are changed at all since Jimmy Porter's day? Surely you don't believe we are just vapid, two-dimensional doormats who lie back and have nasty things done to us, and wouldn't know rape from a bit of rough consentient sex?
So don't let all the plaudits fool you, Mike. And next time you decide to stray so far into male fantasy why not take a tip from Winner and give a woman a gun?
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