Arrow Heads Vol. 41: Experience the Darkness of a STORMY MONDAY

This crime tale of a bleak Britain remains a stunning piece of work.

Mike Figgis’s feature film writing/directing debut Stormy Monday may be the best case study in how to blend two specific genres and place them in a setting of such strong timeliness for its day. The filmmaker’s combining of prime neo-noir and new British cinema is so superb, especially in the way all the elements harmoniously carry each other, that it’s easy to forget that there isn’t much action in this crime thriller. Although there is a slight bit of suspense towards the end, it never once matters that there isn’t more of it since gunplay and action was never what Stormy Monday was about. In the end, this film is all about the people and the despair of the city they find themselves in.

In Stormy Monday, a dangerous American businessman (Tommy Lee Jones) tries to hustle his way into control of the failing town of Newcastle, England by pressuring the influential owner of a successful nightclub (Sting). Caught in the middle of it all is an American waitress (Melanie Griffith) and the club owner’s new assistant (Sean Bean) who begin to fall in love.

Figgis constructed Stormy Monday purely for the neo-noir wave of films that were coming out during the 80s, which borrowed on themes from the genre’s heyday and infused them with a modern edge. As a result, the film is a completely character-driven affair with the people themselves becoming more important than what it actually happening on the screen. It’s hard to deny that unmistakable noir stain that flows in every scene of the film. Stormy Monday contains so much bleakness and desperation in every frame. It’s a kind of world which people yearn to escape from, even the ones who thrive in it. Where Stormy Monday’s noirish aspirations really shine the most however is in its main female character. Kate (Griffith) is shown to be the quintessential woman with a past, all of which comes through without having to list her dark experiences. The same goes for Brendan (Bean) as he joins Kate as a pair of lost souls who have spent most of their lives being tossed around by society in one way or another before finding a small glimmer of hope in one another. They can feel safe in each other’s presence and not pretend because they both know that neither one wants to use the other.

While not as prominent as the neo-noir wave, Stormy Monday also proved itself to be a highly effective entry into the new British cinema movement. Though the depiction of the frighteningly sparse town of Newcastle, Figgis has set his story in an area where prosperity literally goes to die. The state of the city actually speaks a lot to the state of Britain at the time Stormy Monday was made. This as stark and as true a portrait as can be during the Thatcher years where, through measures such as the poll tax, the working-class felt cheated and underrepresented. The time and setting provides a rawness to Stormy Monday that proves absolutely invaluable, especially in the depressed sense existing about the city which is amplified by the threat of buy-outs and other such events yet to come. At the same time, the sort of “meat and potatoes” mentality and continuation of daily life makes Figgis’s film purely and proudly British through and through.

Making the quiet effect of Stormy Monday all the more powerful and poetic are a quartet of performances which never go too far or say too much. Because of this, along with the strength of Figgis’s screenplay, every actor turns in work unlike anything he or she had ever done before. The most standout of the group however remains Sting, who, as well-connected club owner Finney, exudes commanding force without having to be tyrannical about it.

There’s an oddness to Stormy Monday with regards to its trappings. The specific combination of locales, fashions and accents used throughout make the film come off as simultaneously British and American for most of its run-time. This curious factor aside, the film shows Figgis at his most Figgis in terms of character, mood and sense of place, setting film lovers up for the kinds of offerings which would later become his trademark. Stormy Monday may not be the most outwardly explosive film of its day, yet the same dark power audiences felt when the film first came out, remains just as potent so many years later.

The Package

The main extra in Arrow’s release of the film is a video appreciation from critic Neil Young where he revisits the many locations seen throughout the film.

  • Audio commentary with Mike Figgis, moderated by critic Damon Wise
  • New video appreciation by critic Neil Young, and a ‘’then and now’’ tour of the film’s Newcastle locations
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacey
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring new writing by critic Mark Cunliffe

The Lowdown

A fantastic piece of work, Stormy Monday is one of the most indelible cinematic debuts of all time.

Stormy Monday is now available on Blu-Ray from Arrow Films.

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