Once Upon a Time in the Midlands 

Once Upon a Time in the Midlands is the final instalment of Shane Meadows self proclaimed Midlands Trilogy. Meadows has decide to do something a little different with this film by giving it western feel to it even though its set in the Midlands. 

The film kicks off on the Vanessa talk show with kind natured, but geeky Welshman, Dek (Rhys Ifans) proposing to his girlfriend Shirley (Shirley Henderson) live on national television. Unfortunately she turns his offer down, much to the dismay of Dek, but much to the pleasure of her ex-boyfriend, Jimmy (Robert Carlyle) who’s watching in Glasgow. Jimmy takes this as a cue to escape from a botched robbery and a chance to win back the woman whom he feels is rightfully his.

Dek returns home after the show with Shirley and Jimmy's sister, Carol (Kathy Burke), who is still friends with her. Accompanying them is Carol's estranged husband, would be country and western singer Charlie (Ricky Tomlinson).  These four characters live in the same street and are an extended family of sorts.

When Jimmy swaggers back into town, he forces Shirley to question her feelings for Dek. Added to the complications, is that Jimmy and Shirley have a 12 year old daughter Marlene (Finn Atkins), who sees Dek as her father and not Jimmy. She wants Dek and her mother to be together more than anything else and is the only one who isn't fooled by Jimmy.

Can a mild mannered, and frankly, geeky Dek stand up to the charisma and physical threat of a man like Jimmy? However, the real question is does Shirley want Dek to stay or is she feeling some old feeling for Jimmy?

Once Upon A Time In The Midlands starts really well, but for some unknown explanation all the laughs dry up without a trace half way through the film. Seriously, no more laughs after the first half of the film. Instead what we have left is a long and frankly boring drama with people who you really cannot take seriously after the limited exposure in the first half. The mix of a Welsh Ifans, Scottish Carlyle, Cockney Burke and Liverpudlian Tomlinson all in the midlands (well Nottingham) makes the film lose its identity somewhat and trying to mimic a western (clippity-clop music and gunslinger frames) its never really settles.

Performance wise, most of the cast are on auto-pilot and tread the same routines that they have done many times before. Only two people come out well, Rhys Ifans and Finn Atkins. Ifans, for the first time, seems to play a normal character and does it well, showing superb comic timing. The real champion in the acting stakes is young newcomer Atkins, as she anchors the film when ever its in risk of its own rumbustiousness and at times seems like the seasoned pro in the cast. Shirley Henderson is unbelievably whinny and annoying and its amazing that one guy, let alone two men like Jimmy and Dek are willing to fight over her.

With the setting and the very dulcet tone of the film, it feels much more like a television program and not like a feature film. Director Shane Meadows manages to have an over reliance on stereotypes and with the sudden shift in genre halfway through, it just doesn't run well. Overall the film is like a cowboy wagon trail that reaches its final destination with some of the wagon getting lost on the way. 

Score 4/10

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