Naked (1993 film)


UK poster
Directed by Mike Leigh
Produced by Simon Channing Williams
Written by Mike Leigh
Music by Andrew Dickson
Cinematography Dick Pope
Edited by Jon Gregory
Distributed by First Independent Films (UK)
Fine Line Features (US)
Release dates
  • 5 November 1993 (1993-11-05)
Running time
131 minutes[1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $1,769,306 (USA)

Naked is a 1993 British black comedy-drama film written and directed by Mike Leigh. Before this film, Leigh was known for subtler comedic dissections of middle-class and working-class manners. Naked was more stark and brutal than his previous works. Leigh relied heavily on improvisation in the making of the film, but little actual ad-libbing was filmed; lengthy rehearsals in character provided much of the script. Almost all the dialogues were filmed as written. The film received largely favourable reviews. Filming took place in London from 9 September to 16 December 1992.


After a sexual encounter with a married woman in an alley in Manchester turns into a rape, Johnny steals a car and flees for Dalston, "a scrawny, unpretentious area" in the east of London, to seek refuge with his former girlfriend, fellow Mancunian Louise.

Intelligent, educated and eloquent, Johnny is also deeply embittered and egotistical: he will fight and provoke anyone he meets to prove his superiority. His tactics of choice in verbal interaction are based on a particular form of intellectual bullying, uniformly directed at people less cultured than himself, and summed up in domineering, scholastic barrages drawn from eclectic sources. His overall behaviour is reckless, self-destructive and at times borderline sadistic, and shows a penchant for aggressive sexual domination at least twice throughout the film. He seduces Louise's flatmate, Sophie, simply because he can, but soon gets tired of her and embarks on an extended latter-day odyssey among the destitute and despairing of the United Kingdom's capital city.

During his encounters in London's seedy underbelly, Johnny expounds his world-view at long and lyrical length to anyone who will listen, whether Archie, a Scottish boy yelling "Maggie!" at the top of his voice he comes across in Brewer Street, or Brian, a security guard of acres of empty space, 'a post-Modernist gas chamber', whom Johnny marks down as having, 'the most tedious job in England'.[2] All the while, the sinister presence of his ex-girlfriend's psychopathic landlord, Sebastian Hawks (aka Jeremy G Smart), lurks in the background. Johnny eventually suffers horribly at the hands of thugs in the most casual manner; and when the primary tenant of the flat, Sandra, returns from a trip overseas, Johnny is compelled to leave, to throw himself back into the world as he has ostensibly done so many times before.



Sheridan Morley described Johnny as, "Alfie in the grips of Thatcherite depression", – thus, according to the critic Michael Coveney, "cross fertilizing Bill Naughton's chirpy cockney Lothario, immortalized by Michael Caine, with the dark sinister disaffection of the new underclass – a neat way of indicating that the Swinging Sixties had degenerated into the nauseated Nineties."[3] Leigh had captured, according to Coveney, something of the anxiety, rootless cynicism, and big-city disaffection of the time.

Thewlis' background reading for the part of Johnny included Voltaire's Candide, the teachings of Buddha and James Gleick's Chaos.[4]

Other echoes, cinematic and literary, that critics have detected in the film include William Shakespeare's Hamlet and Jean Renoir's Boudu Saved from Drowning (one of Leigh's favourite films).[5] Shakespeare's hero is marked by "talking incessantly to the audience and assuming a dominance over other characters through expressions of mania, and rapid, witty speech. Thewlis, ... wrapped like Hamlet in a black and inky coat, [is similarly] socially untethered but burdened with useless knowledge and a vicious, bullying line in repartee." Of the precedent of "idiosyncratic, character-driven film-making" in Renoir's Boudu, Michael Coveney has observed: "Both Naked and Boudu explore the tension between the domesticated and the anarchic (this is a central theme, probably the theme running through Leigh's work), and focus this tension in the tragicomedy of a central character."[6]

In 1965, Leigh had teamed up with David Halliwell, hired the Unity Theatre for a fortnight, and directed the first production of Halliwell's Little Malcolm and his Struggle Against the Eunuchs. According to Coveney, "Malcolm Scrawdyke is clearly a precursor of Johnny in Naked. Scrawdyke was a loutish art student and absurd ideologue from Huddersfield who had trouble with girls and a hatred for his teachers...the play shared a deeply felt schoolboy coarseness with Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi, a piece originally written as a vicious attack on a loathed mathematics master."[7]

The song sung by Johnny and Louise near the film's end, "Take me back to Manchester when it's raining", was one Leigh used to sing with his friends in Habonim ("the Builders"), the international socialist Jewish youth movement he joined as a schoolboy. After the film was released Leigh heard from a retired schoolmaster at Stand Grammar in Prestwich who had written the song for a school review in 1950.[8]


The film generated mostly positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 88% rating based on reviews from 52 critics, with an average score of 8.2/10 and the consensus: "Naked lives up to its title with a thoroughly committed performance from David Thewlis that's backed up with some of Mike Leigh's most powerful direction."[9] Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned the film a weighted average score of 84 (out of 100) based on 20 reviews from mainstream critics, considered to be "universal acclaim."[10]

Derek Malcolm of The Guardian noted that the film "is certainly Leigh's most striking piece of cinema to date" and that "it tries to articulate what is wrong with the society that Mrs Thatcher claims does not exist." On the character of Johnny, he notes: "He likes no one, least of all himself, and he dislikes women even more than men, relapsing into sexual violence as his misogyny takes hold. He is perhaps redeemable, but only just. And not by any woman in our immediate view." He praised the directing and performances, singling out David Thewlis, mentioning that he "plays [Johnny] with a baleful brilliance that is certain to make this underrated, but consistently striking, actor into a star name."[11] Malcolm later added: "[Johnny] is, at his worst, a cold, desperate fish. His redeeming feature is that he still cares."[12]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four out of four stars and analysed the message behind the title, saying it "describes characters who exist in the world without the usual layers of protection. They are clothed, but not warmly or cheerfully. But they are naked of families, relationships, homes, values and, in most cases, jobs. They exist in modern Britain with few possessions except their words." He praised the directing, noting: "Mike Leigh's method of working is well-known. He gathers his actors, suggests a theme, and asks them to improvise situations. A screenplay develops out of their work. This method has created in Naked a group of characters who could not possibly have emerged from a conventional screenplay; this is the kind of film that is beyond imagining, and only observation could have created it." He concluded: "This is a painful movie to watch. But it is also exhilarating, as all good movies are, because we are watching the director and actors venturing beyond any conventional idea of what a modern movie can be about. Here there is no plot, no characters to identify with, no hope. But there is care: The filmmakers care enough about these people to observe them very closely, to note how they look and sound and what they feel."[13]


Julie Burchill attacked the film in The Sunday Times, saying that Leigh's characters talked like lobotomised Muppets; they talked, she said, "sub-wittily, the way Diane Arbus's subjects look." And Suzanne Moore in The Guardian criticised the lethargic females whose lives Johnny routinely ruins: "What sort of realism is this? To show a misogynist and surround him with such walking doormats has the effect, intentional or not, of justifying this behaviour."[14] Lesley Sharp (Louise) responded: "There are a lot of people who don't go to art house cinemas who do have deeply troubled lives and are at risk ... We do actually live in a misogynistic, violent society and there are a lot of women in abusive relationships who find it very difficult to get out of them. And a lot of men, too." Coveney denied the relevance of the criticism: "Is there no room for irony, for the idea that in depicting horror in the sex war an artist is exposing them, not endorsing them? And who says that Sophie is an unwilling doormat or that Louise is a doormat at all? It is clear that the latter is taking serious stock of her relationship with Johnny. She exhibits both patience and tenderness in her dealings with him, whereas she finally pulls a knife on Jeremy."[15]

Awards and nominations


  1. "NAKED (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 9 August 1993. Retrieved 6 July 2013.
  2. Coveney, p.25
  3. Michael Coveney, The World According to Mike Leigh, p.19, Harper Collins, 1996
  4. Coveney, p. 27
  5. Coveney, p.32
  6. Coveney, p.21, p32,
  7. Coveney, p.67-68
  8. Coveney, p.29
  9. "Naked (1993)." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  10. "Naked." Metacritic. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  11. Malcolm, Derek. "Naked (Review)." The Guardian. 4 November 1993. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  12. "'I got dangerously close to Johnny': Mike Leigh's Naked made David Thewlis a star - and went on to haunt him. He and the director talk to Stuart Jeffries about the creation of one of British film's greatest characters." The Guardian. 14 August 2008. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  13. Ebert, Roger. "Naked (Review)." Chicago Sun-Times. 18 February 1994. Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  14. Moore, Suzanne. "Reel men don't eat quiche." The Guardian. 4 November 1993. Print. Quoted in Watts, Carol. "Mike Leigh's Naked and the Gestic Economy of Cinema." Women: A Cultural Review. 7.13 (1996): 271. Print.
  15. Coveney, p.33-34
  16. 1 2 3 "Festival de Cannes: Naked". Retrieved 22 August 2009.

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