Reviews

Hideous Kinky

3

Gillies Mackinnon is hardly one of Britain's best-known directors, yet the '90s have seen the Scottish film-maker in prolific form. Since the failure of his foray into Hollywood with A Simple Twist Of Fate, Mackinnon appears content to remain in the British Isles, making a series of intelligent, well-crafted films on subjects such as conflicts amongst Irish travellers (Trojan Eddie) and shellshocked World War One soldiers in rehab (Regeneration). While none of these were box-office hits, all of them gained favourable reviews.

Now, thanks to the presence of a certain Ms Winslet (in her first post-Titanic performance), his latest film has the potential to escape from the arthouse to a wider audience. Based on Esther Freud's novel, its strange title derives from a children's game played by Bea and Lucy, in which unlikely words are juxtaposed. But while Hideous Kinky shares some of the virtues of Mackinnon's earlier work - - a sensitivity to characterisation, careful attention to setting - it never really becomes dramatically compelling.

The central theme, and the source of some wry humour, is the difficulty of parenting, and specifically the extent to which you should impose your own values on your children. Julia, terrified by the prospect of returning to a cold south London flat and a mundane job, wants Bea and Lucy to experience the joys of freedom in an exotic culture. "You don't have to do anything," she tells them. Yet in turn, they crave normality - - to eat rice pudding, to have a garden and to go to school in a uniform.

Mackinnon doesn't make judgements about tree-hugging Julia's behaviour and elicits a telling performance from Winslet. Given a greater dramatic scope to impress, she captures her character's indefatigable spirit and thirst for new experience, as well as her creeping doubts about what's best for her family. Both Bella Riza and Carrie Mullan prove remarkably assured child actors, while Saïd Taghmaoui exudes genuine charm as Bilal.

The sights and sounds of '70s Morocco are also skillfully recreated while the magnificent desert vistas are impressively and often gloriously captured by The Full Monty cinematographer John de Borman.

What handicaps Hideous Kinky, however, is the absence of a binding dramatic structure. The first-person viewpoint of Freud's novel has been abandoned in Billy Mackinnon's rambling screenplay, yet the writer fails to come up with a satisfactory replacement. And with too much information crammed into the initial scenes the pacing soon sags, preventing the viewer from fully engaging with the narrative. Moreover, interesting supporting parts, like ex-pats Santoni and Charlotte, remain peripheral. Hideous Kinky is a film you desperately want to like, but ultimately it lacks the emotional impact of great cinema.

Verdict:

Despite boasting fine performances and impressive desert photography, Hideous Kinky is stymied by its meandering screenplay and uncertain pacing. It's a solid, decent piece of film-making, but it ultimately fails to inspire the viewer.

Film Details

  • 15
  • UK Theatrical Release Date: February 5th 1999
  • Genre