Someone I know once called this the "Most depressing film I have ever seen ". He obviously hadn't seen "Mad Cows" or "Pearl Harbour" for while Naked is without doubt ,a bleak, sordid trawl through Britain's or more appositely London's underbelly it is shot through with caustic humour , odd moments of baffling empathy and is disturbingly compulsive .
Naked is ,to give it a slightly pseudo sarky synopsis in thrall to its nihilistic anti-hero , an Oddysey for the nineties ( it was released in 1993)as Johnny (David Thewlis)flees his native Manchester for London to escape the beating surely coming his way after raping a girl in an alleyway. Johnny isn't a very nice person, He's misogynistic (Indeed the whole film has been accused of misogyny , overlooking the fact that the films moral centre is female), cruel , calculating and mendacious .However he is also laceratingly witty , and fiercely intelligent so that despite his objectionable behavoiur his painful self awareness and razor sharp mind win you over.
Once in London Johnny tracks down ex-girlfriend Louise (Lesley Sharp) who is sharing a flat with neurotic Lesley (Karin Cartlidge) .Johnny , quick to spot vulnerability seduces Lesley .The flats landlord Jeremy (Greg Cruttwell) , is the films one character drawn in broad strokes A virulently obnoxious product of Thatcher's policies and world view he is a snorting stalking oil slick of a man , happy to accept sexual favours in lieu of rent and dispensing crass one liners like the repulsive off spring of Alan Bastard and Bernard Manning .
Johnny wishing to escape the clutches of the over bearing Lesley goes an fascinating tour of the capitols seamy back streets interacting with the characters he randomly bumps into. There is Archie(Ewen Bremner) , a young Scotsman with a violent tick -which Johnny relentlessly mimics ,screaming for his girlfriend Maggie( Susan Vidler). While Archie is clearly disturbed and completely disenfranchised to Johnny he is mere amusement and once bored with him he moves on meeting Brian ( Peter Wright) a night watchman "Guarding Space" and its here , in their exchanges that Johnny's voracious intelligence and veracity really shines as he flattens the trusting and gentle Brian with his apocalyptic logic.
He taunts Brian by seducing a women(Deborah McClaren) Brian has been observing from his workplace, winds up a wired fly poster(Darren Tuntstall) so much that he head butts him, then attempts to win over an attractive waitress in a café(Gina Mckee) before being beaten up by a laughing gang in an alley way . Crawling back to the flat he is given the option of a way out of his current sordid life by the empathic Louise , but not before the return of the flats true owner Sandra(Claire Skinner)back from a holiday in Africa who is so appalled by events that she is rendered almost speechless ,not that it stops her trying as Johnny finishes her sentences for her in vary funny scene.
The film ends on a down beat note as Johnny having shared a tender compassionate moment with Louise , the films one truly sympathetic character -a scene which also hints at deep seated psychological problems for him -he steals her money and slinks off limping . The thought of settling down and leading something approximating a normal life which is what Louise offers are more than he can bear and so he rejects her and chooses the sordid nefarious existence instead.
Naked is a relentless trawl though a dystopian country , and sadly one that has if anything descended further into dystopia and societal meltdown. The film relied heavily on improvisation , though little of what we see on screen was ad-libbed , the improvisation was more of a tool for the actors to know their characters .Thewlis gives an absolutely mesmerizing performance as Johnny , so much so its hard to see him as anyone else , and the other actors are all superb . Naked is truly great British film and an inexplicably overlooked one at that . It's not easy viewing , for sure but there aren't many films that you come way from looking at not just the events portrayed differently but life as a whole. You may reject most of it but think about it you will .