Hideous Kinky Review

Marrakech, 1972. Twenty-five-year-old Julia (Kate Winslet), estranged from her writer/poet husband, has left what she sees as the dreariness and drabness of London to the colour and exoticism of Morocco. With her are her two daughters, Bea, seven (Bella Riza) and Lucy, five (Carrie Mullan).

Esther Freud (born 1963) is from a distinguished family: her sister is the designer Bella Freud and her father is one of Britain's greatest living artists, Lucian Freud, and she is the great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud. She began as an actress – she can be seen in alien costume in the Colin Baker Doctor Who serial, Attack of the Cybermen. She and her sister travelled extensively with their mother, Bernadine Crowley, as a child, and these experiences were the inspiration for her first novel, Hideous Kinky, published in 1991. Five novels have followed, and Granta included her in their once-a-decade Best Young British Novelists list in 1993.

Hideous Kinky the novel is notable for its evocation of time and place, and its first-person narration through a five-year-old's eyes. (Written looking back at the experience obviously, not written in five-year-old language.) I read it in the mid 1990s and not again since. It's an overrated novel to my mind (I read it in the , structurally flawed and having what seems a lack of distance from its subject matter. Because something happened in real life does not mean that it has a place in a well-shaped work of fiction, no matter how autobiographical the content. (Her second novel, the third-person Peerless Flats, about student life, has more ironic distance which makes it the best novel of Freud's I've read, though I've only read three.)

This is a case where film improves on novel: while the story is still episodic and character-led, Billy MacKinnon's screenplay gives it a shape and a forward momentum. Brother Gillies's direction is another asset, giving the film a strong flavour and sense of time and place. (He had spent time in Marrakech himself in 1972, so was more qualified than most to make Hideous Kinky.) The film isn't at all sentimental: while acknowledging Julia's idealism, and her love for her children, it's also clear-eyed on the costs of this adventure and the hardships of their hand-to-mouth existence. Bea in particular finds their situation hard to take, wishing that their life could be normal, and that she should go to a school – with a uniform – like other girls. If your mother is a hippie, then the only way to rebel is to be conservative.

One thing that film can do that book's can't is provide a soundtrack, which here include some well-chosen songs from the time. (“Here Comes the Sun” is Ritchie Havens's cover, the Beatles' original presumably being unlicenseable at the time, and it's not the fault of Jefferson Airplane's “White Rabbit” that it has become the go-to song for anything hippie and druggie and countercultural.) John De Borman's camerawork is another asset.

The film is also anchored by four strong performances. Two child actresses, Bella Riza and Carrie Mullan (the former never acted again, the latter has done), are very well directed. Saîd Taghmaoui, French-born from Moroccan parents, then hot from La Haine, gives strong support as Julia's Moroccan lover Bilal. But this is Kate Winslet's film, taking a character who could easily become a caricature and making her three-dimensional and sympathetic despite her shortcomings. MacKinnon regular Kevin McKidd turns up briefly.

With this and Small Faces in particular, Gillies MacKinnon – aided by his writer brother Billy – looked set to become one of the leading directors in Britain. (He had a brief trip to the USA to make A Simple Twist of Fate with Steve Martin.) However, none of his films were especially successful commercially (though I saw both this and Regeneration at my local multiplex) and have tended, like their director, to be underrated. He has only made three cinema features since 2000 (of which I've only seen one, Pure), working otherwise on TV.



The DVD


Universal's release of Hideous Kinky is on a dual-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only. It begins with the following: a commercial for IndiVision, trailers for Gigantic and Fireflies in the Garden and an announcement that by purchasing this DVD you are supporting your local film and television industry. These can be fastforwarded, or you can go to the next one via your chapter button, but they cannot otherwise be skipped. The film had a 15 certificate in cinemas and on previous VHS and DVD releases; it has now been downrated to a 12.

Hideous Kinky was shot in Super 35 and shown in cinemas in 2.39:1. However on DVD, the matte is opened up and the resulting ratio is 1.78:1 (slightly windowboxed). This isn't the only Scope film that's been shown in a narrower ratio on DVD, without any letterboxing, and it may have director and DP approval for all I know. Personally I would prefer the wider ratio as that is how the film was intended to be seen in cinemas, but as one of the purposes of Super 35 was to allow filmmakers to make films in Scope without having to pan-and-scan the result for television, or worse compose your shots so that they could be easily cropped to 4:3. As for the transfer itself, it's a good one, sharp and colourful. Skin tones tend to the reddish, but given that the film is set in a hot, sunny country, that's not untoward.

More problematic is the soundtrack, which is presented in Dolby Surround (2.0). Given that digital soundtracks were ubiquitous in 1998, I don't know why this DVD shouldn't have a 5.1 soundtrack. That said, the soundtrack isn't the most sonically adventurous out there, with little use of the surrounds. Dialogue is always clear. Non-English speech is intentionally left unsubtitled, apart from one late scene – one of the few without either Julia or the children present – which is conducted in Arabic and where the DVD provides fixed subtitles. English subtitles for the hard of hearing are available.

Extras are a disappointing. The trailer can be accessed from the main menu: it's non-anamorphic and in a ratio of 1.85:1, running 1:49. The other extras are in a single title, with four chapter stops, running 31:23. They are clearly derived from the film's electronic press kit: if you didn't know that, the BBFC entry gives it away. You can only skip forward to the next chapter, not play any of the separate items within each one. It begins with the same trailer. Next up are what are described as “film clips” which are certainly redundant on a DVD. Chapter Three is a series of soundbites (so described). Each one is prefaced by a text question, followed by the answer on video, all of them under a minute. The interviewees are Kate Winslet, Gillies MacKinnon, Saîd Taghmaoui, Ann Scott (producer) and Billy MacKinnon. The last-named only gets one question, about working with his brother. Needless to say, we don't get below the surface and some of the questions are repeated from person to person. The extras are completed by eight minutes of B-roll footage.

Film
8 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
6 out of 10
Extras
2 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

Last updated: 18/04/2018 15:21:22

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