The award-winning 1993 dark comedy-drama NAKED put actor David Thewlis firmly on the international map and catapulted director Mike Leigh to a new career high. BFI have just released this gritty and controversial film about a cynical idealist whose observations about a corrupt and unforgiving British society at the tail end of Thatcherism makes for some truly unsettling viewing and thanks to a brand new 4K restoration looks sharper and grittier still.

Starting in Manchester, a youngish man called Johnny Fletcher (David Thewlis) has rough sex with a woman in a desolate and dark alleyway though it’s not made clear whether the woman in question is a prostitute or a wild fling. After managing to free herself from what can only be described as rape, she runs away, yelling “You’re f*****g dead mate” while Johnny runs off into the opposite direction and steals a car in the process. He then heads for London on the motorway as the opening credits appear. Arriving in the capital he makes his way to Dalston, an area in East London. Reason for his destination is that he needs a place to stay and what better place than Louise Clancy’s (Lesley Sharp) flat, a fellow Mancunian and former squeeze. With Louise at work he makes the acquaintance of Sophie (the late Katrin Cartlidge), a ‘punkette’ who is on the dole and who has a fondness for booze and getting high. This she achieves with the help of all sorts of pills and what have you, courtesy of Sandra (Claire Skinner), the main occupant of the flat and a young nurse who is away on holiday in Zimbabwe. Sandra keeps a serious stack of ‘remedies’ in the kitchen- and bathroom cabinets to which both Sophie and Louise help themselves. Sophie also seems to have a fondness for sex with blokes she barely knows and it’s no different in Johnny’s case… after getting high the two have it off, much to the dismay of Louise who doesn’t seem at all pleased to find Johnny in the flat but is nonetheless hurt sensing that her ex now seems to favour Sophie over her. After a discussion about why Louise moved to London it emerges she wanted to get out of Manchester but isn’t really happy with life in London, for one, she hates her job as a filing clerk. When she asks Johnny for his reasons his response is evasive. Tiring of Sophie’s erratically obsessive behaviour and Louise fed up with the unwanted interruption to her domestic life Johnny wanders off to explore the city – all the while ranting and sharing his worldview and conspiracy theories with everyone and anyone regardless whether they are interested in hearing what he has to say.

Along his excursions he makes the acquaintance of a young Scots laddie called Archie (Ewen Bremner with a deliberate, near incomprehensible accent) who is afflicted with a tic and is on the lookout for his girlfriend Maggie (Susan Vidler) whom he hopes to find somewhere along Brewer Street. When asked by Johnny what it’s like in Scotland Archie replies that “Scotland is a shite place to live”. When Archie and Maggie find each other thanks to Johnny the couple engage in a violent argument and Johnny wanders off, aimlessly drifting about in a nightly London which is galaxies away from the glitz and the neon-lights of the capital’s West End. His next ‘victim’ is Brian (Peter Wight), a well-meaning security guard who makes the mistake of letting Johnny into the empty office building so he doesn’t have to freeze on the streets. As a ‘thank you’, the poor man is subjected to Johnny’s ramblings about the looming apocalypse and his exhausting Book of Revelations theories whilst remarking that Brian must have the most tedious job in England. Instead of kicking the ungrateful loudmouth out, Brian shares a sandwich with him though thankfully Johnny, with his duffel bag strapped over his shoulder, is soon on his way again and on the lookout for more ‘victims’ – one of them is timid greasy spoon café employee (played by Gina McKee) who allows him to have a bath in her flat (actually it’s a friends flat) but once again Johnny’s sarcasm results in her kicking him out and once again he’s on the streets…

In a subplot we have a bit of a Jekyll & Hyde character in Jeremy Smart/Sebastian Hawk (Greg Cruttwell), an arrogant and utterly misogynistic yuppie who takes great pleasure in the sexual humiliation of women and also happens to be Claire, Sandra and Sophie’s landlord. The latter is being subjected to S&M sex when it becomes clear that she and Claire have allowed the flat to disintegrate into a pigsty, never mind being behind with the rent. That said, Jeremy/Sebastian gets his well-deserved comeuppance so to speak and to a certain extent so does Johnny who returns to Claire’s flat after having been beaten up in a desolate and dark alleyway (there’s karma!)… Despite Sandra who has just returned from holiday and is rather angry to find her place in utter disarray she tends to a battered Johnny but don’t make the mistake of assuming he will be grateful…

Although it’s easy to dismiss Johnny Fletcher as a deeply unlikable misogynist and misanthrope, he is in fact an intelligent, multi-faceted and well-read human being who has simply given up on mankind and the general ignorance and stupidity of the human race. He’s an idealist in search of a world that no longer exists and perhaps never existed to begin with. Although Johnny’s constant ramblings and remarks, razor-sharp as they might be, could run the danger of tiring the viewer this however is not the case thanks to David Thewlis’ tongue-in-cheek delivery which adds a much needed dose of black humour to an otherwise bleak and gritty scenario.
At the other end of the spectrum we have Greg Cruttwell’s corrupt and morally bankrupt Jeremy/Sebastian who really is a misogynist and represents the wicked face of a capitalist-orientated society typical of the Thatcher era, with unemployed Sophie a prime example of its failure.

NAKED is an important film not only because it resembles a political chapter which caused a lot of political and social unrest but it also depicts a London which no longer exists – many of the locations seen in the film (thanks to Dick Pope’s cinematography this is a London which offers no salvation) have since been revamped or fell victim to greedy property developers.
The restored Blu-ray release contains the following Special Features:
Audio commentary, Mike Leigh and Dick Pope on ‘Naked’ (2021), Image gallery, Trailer, Guardian interview with Mike Leigh from 2002, Leigh’s 1987 short film ‘The Short & Curlies’ starring David Thewlis and Alison Steadman, plus info booklet.