David Thewlis’ performance in Mike Leigh’s Naked is made second-to-none by it being utterly unique, along with the sheer ability of the whole thing. The main appeal of the film eventually boils down to how brilliantly he brings his character, the darkly cynical yet quick-witted Johnny, to the screen. This is made all the more impressive when you know that the majority of Naked‘s excellent dialogue is improvised, bolstered by heavy and intensive rehearsals to help the players mould their avatars.
While a grotty and washed out affair, which is sure to turn off many, that remains the only appropriate path towards the intended finished piece which, by all accounts, deserves far more than the sub-cult adoration it receives today.
Fleeing his native Manchester after essentially raping a woman, Johnny doesn’t exactly get introduced to the audience as a likeable character. This makes his genuinely charming, deeply intelligent and endlessly engaging personality all the more conspicuous when we eventually hear his paranoid diatribes. Hilarious, thought-provoking and viciously challenging, it’s easy to quickly disregard the character’s opening atrocities in favour of simply enjoying his company. After reconnecting with an old flame in her new home of London, and her markedly troubled housemate, we’re taken on a brutal tour of the dank backstreets of Dalston and its neighbouring districts. What ensues is practically an odyssey as we meet a variety of similar drifters and their varying perspectives, each in some way essentially broken or defeated. Johnny becomes an almost religious figure in his nihilistic wisdom, dispensing his worldview and (surprisingly convincing) conspiracy theories to any temporary sparring partner who will listen. The effect is endlessly watchable, and profoundly insightful; not to mention hysterical.
Throughout, we’re also presented with the narcissistic chaos of Greg Cruttwell’s Jeremy, a beautifully disgusting character who becomes both the other side of the coin, and eventually mirror image to Johnny. His connection to the already established characters becomes clear by the end, but his presence in the film until then is a shocking exclamation mark to his counterpoint’s questioning and philosophy. In the end, we see all the characters as naked, emotionally, and it reminds us that it’s really not that far bubbling from the surface for even the most adjusted of us. Even when we fight against it, like the wonderfully sheltered security guard Brian (Peter Wight), it doesn’t take much challenge or erosion to bring the truth of our weaknesses to the fore. Naked isn’t a film entirely about those weaknesses in which we all share however, or even necessarily about the pointlessness of it all. It simply accepts them as a part of our lives, as perhaps it would be healthy for us to all to be a little more honest about.