| This movie is inevitably
overshadowed by ‘The Long Good Friday’, released in 1979.
This is equal to it. Bob Hoskins here has a different kind of vulnerability. In ‘Friday’ – he has the IRA bombing ‘his manor’ and is prey to elements larger than himself (Irish and American strong arming). In this film, women are the forces against him: he is the victim of love.
Michael Caine plays the part of his boss (Mortwell), but it is not for a while into the film that he surfaces. We first meet George (Bob Hoskins) as he is going to see his estranged daughter – he has just spent seven years inside. A fight ensues between he mother and George and it takes the amiable Thomas (Robbie Coltrane), to take him away and remind him of how much the area has changed.
All through the film Thomas is an angel to George in a seedy world that he inherits when he meets the focus of the job he is given (by Mortwell), to chauffeur the tall dark exotic prostitute Simone form job to job (played by the unreasonably beautiful Cathy Tyson).
They are antagonistic at the start: Simone looks sleek and presentable regardless of what she does for a living, whereas George appears to have no taste:
George: I’m cheap – I can’t help it. God made me that way.
He makes matters worse by always asking Simone about her clients: ‘was it good?’
‘Alright was he?’
The characters of both George and Thomas are utterly, utterly gorgeous in Mona Lisa – a running sub theme is their mutual adoration of fiction – especially detective fiction and throughout they exchange opinions and projections about a book they are reading about an opera singer killing dwarf. In spite of his obvious shortcomings George has a really beautiful and innocent soul.
He continues to chauffeur Simone from client to client who is never seen by George as he either waits for his mistress in the lobby of exclusive hotels or outside very expensive houses. Afterwards Simone gets George to drive her around Kings Cross – a seedy area of London renowned for open solicitation that George refers to as ‘the meat rack.’ He has no idea who or what they are looking for but obliges on a nightly basis.
Simone takes him to buy some clothes and gradually trusts him. She tells him of her drug addicted past and time with a pimp. She had a young friend at this time – who did not get out ‘you last a year and a half in that life – if you’re lucky’, Simone tells George and she enlists his help in looking for Cathy.
Thomas can tell that George is falling for Simone and reminds him that she is a prostitute:
George: Maybe – but she’s still a fucking lady.
Intermittently George picks up the pieces of his relationship with his daughter. His new look of respectability that Simone has given him undoubtedly helps and he sees her for chats in his jag when he picks her up from school.
As a stark contrast to this – George starts to frequent brothels in Soho and is appalled and sickened by what he sees. He knows the description of the girl that Simone is looking for – he visits a girl like her who is looked after by a pimp who is the victim of physical abuse. You know that George will run into him at sometime later – and he does. He refers to himself as Mr. Smith.
George is invited in to see his boss – Michael Caine’s character – who is vile and loathsome going on and on about George being confused. The subtext of this is that George should not be holding him responsible for serving seven years in prison – although what George did time for is not made clear at all in the film. The fact that Mortwell does not respect George and treats him badly is patently obvious. He is treated as a lackey and is now expected to find out what an Arab client of Simone’s gets up to with her.
George does see what Simone gets up to with one of her clients when George – after waiting some considerable time in the lobby of a hotel, gets worried and goes to see what is going on, only to find Simone tied up in her underwear on a hotel bed. George hits the roof – much to the chagrin of Simone. George just doesn’t understand why she would allow that to be done to her.
George does track down Simone’s friend Cathy – she and the pimp in Soho George meets are part of his own boss’s seedy inner circle of connections. He tracks her to an exclusive address and hides behind a two way mirror with an escape panel and sees what goes on in the bedroom on the other side of it. Cathy is pinned up against the mirror with a much older man doing something unspeakable to her from behind. We are only privy to the grimace on her face thankfully.
George, of course rescues her (not without the notice of his boss), and takes her to Brighton where he calls Simone to come and get her. Not only is she a total space cadet (she sings Michael Finnegan over and over in the car), she can only eat ice cream, George does not understand why. ‘You don’t know anything you do ya?’ Cathy says to George. But things are becoming ever more clear to him. Simone pulls up being driven by Thomas….’she really likes me’ Cathy says to George – ‘she really likes me.’
They all go to a hotel together and Cathy goes into withdrawl. George comes back form the pharmacy to be invited out for a walk with Simone so she can explain herself presumably, but George already knows.
George: You like her in that special way, like in the songs….
I’ve sold myself for a couple of dykes
The close of the film sees George confronted with both boss and Simone in the hotel bedroom where Cathy is writhing about on the bed but thankfully not singing. By this time has arrived anyone with a heart wants George totally free of these characters and the finale justly releases him.
With his best friend and daughter at the end George is in the company he rightly deserves.
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