Love and Belonging in ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’

The 1985 queer romance between a British Pakistani man and a skinhead turned immigrant tropes on their head and remains prescient to this day.

beautiful laundrette feature
Gorden Warnecke and Daniel Day-Lewis in 'My Beautiful Laundrette' (My Beautiful Laundrette, 1985)

Sadaf Ahsan


June 23, 2023

One chilly evening, after discussing how the London laundrette they’re running together could one day become “as big as the Ritz” if they play their cards right, Omar (Gordon Warnecke) and Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis) share a kiss, the first we see in 1985’s My Beautiful Laundrette. It’s intimate, sweet, and largely hidden by the alleyway’s shadows. But the shouts of Johnny’s skinhead friends interrupt them. The couple turn the corner, only to find them trashing the laundrette.

One of them corners Johnny, angrily spitting out, “I don’t like to see one of our blokes groveling to Pakis. They came over here to work for us. That’s why we brought ’em over, okay? Don’t cut yourself off from your own people…Everyone has to belong.”

The striking statement hits upon the same themes of belonging and alienation with which Omar and his family struggle. Ahead of its time, My Beautiful Laundrette continues to feel prescient in its exploration of identity, home, and sexuality during England’s prickly Thatcher era. Written by British Pakistani screenwriter and novelist Hanif Kureishi and directed by Stephen Frears, the Oscar-nominated film not only opened the door for more South Asian writers and filmmakers, but also is a refreshing examination of the immigrant dream.

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