Dirty Pretty Things (film)

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Dirty Pretty Things
A woman looking over her shoulder, her dark hair blending in to the shadows.
Promotional film poster
Directed by Stephen Frears
Produced by Robert Jones
Tracey Seaward
Written by Steven Knight
Music by Nathan Larson
Cinematography Chris Menges
Edited by Mick Audsley
Distributed by Buena Vista International
Release dates
  • 13 December 2002 (2002-12-13)
Running time
97 minutes[1]
Country United Kingdom
  • English
  • Somali
  • Spanish
  • French
Budget $10 million[2][3]
Box office $13,904,766[4]

Dirty Pretty Things is a 2002 British thriller film directed by Stephen Frears and written by Steven Knight, a drama about two illegal immigrants in London. It was produced by BBC Films and Celador Films.


Okwe, an illegal immigrant to the United Kingdom, is an African man who drives a cab in London during the day and works at the front desk of a hotel at night. (This hotel is staffed with quite a few immigrants, both legal and illegal.) Okwe keeps himself awake by chewing khat, an herbal stimulant. A doctor in his home country, he was forced to flee, following an incident in which staying would have likely cost him his life. In London, he is pressed into giving medical treatment to other poor immigrants, including fellow cab drivers with venereal diseases. Okwe's friend Guo Yi, an employee at a hospital mortuary, provides him with antibiotics under the table.

A prostitute known as Juliette, who acts like an unofficial member of the staff, tells Okwe to check a room in which she was staying, and he finds the toilet overflowing. He fishes out the blockage and finds a human heart. The manager of the hotel, Juan, runs an illegal operation at the hotel wherein immigrants swap kidneys for forged passports. After learning of Okwe's past as a doctor, Juan pressures him to join his operation as a surgeon, but Okwe refuses.

Senay is a Turkish Muslim who also works at the hotel, as a cleaner. She has a visa to stay in the UK providing she does not work, so the hotel is a perfect cover, as she is not named on its books. She also gives Okwe a place to stay—he sleeps on her sofa provided she is out when he is asleep, as her morals forbid a strange man from being in any intimate situation with her.

Following a visit from the Immigration service, Okwe has to leave, as she is frightened they will check her home again and find him. The officials spot a book of matches from the hotel and decide to visit there one night before Senay arrives for her early morning shift. Okwe has the doorman intercept Senay before she gets to work, and the officials don't catch her, but she has to find a new job. She begins working in a sweatshop making clothes, but the officials raid that site, too, causing the entire staff to flee to the roof while the manager gets rid of the Immigration agents. Following this, the manager forces Senay to perform oral sex on him in exchange for her keeping her job and his not informing the border agency of her illegal job. After a couple of times, she refuses to cooperate and bites him, before fleeing with an expensive coat and some dresses.

Okwe finds her a place to stay—the hospital mortuary—but Senay panics. She asks him to help her run away to America by selling the stolen clothes and acting as a surgeon in Juan's organ business. Okwe refuses.

In desperation, Senay then turns to Juan and agrees to exchange a kidney for a passport. As a "deal maker", Juan takes her virginity as well, and later Juliette provides her with the morning-after pill. After learning of Senay's plan, Okwe tells Juan that he will perform the operation to ensure her safety, but only if Juan provides them both with passports under different names. After Juan delivers the passports, Okwe and Senay drug him, surgically remove his kidney, and sell it to Juan's contact.

Senay and Okwe go to Stansted Airport, where Okwe uses his new identity to return to his young daughter, Valerie, in Nigeria (which he had fled after being wrongly accused of his wife's murder) while Senay uses hers to follow her dream to start a new life in New York City. Before they part, she gives him her cousin's address in New York. As they depart they mouth the words, "I love you", to each other. Senay enters the boarding gates, while Okwe calls long-distance to his daughter telling he is coming home at last.



Critical response[edit]

Dirty Pretty Things received positive reviews. Metacritic gives it a rating of 78/100 based on reviews from 35 critics.[5] Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 94% judging it "Certified Fresh", based on 138 reviews. The site's critical consensus describes the film as, "An illuminating and nuanced film about the exploitation of illegal immigrants." [6]


Dirty Pretty Things was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and won a British Independent Film Award for "Best Independent British Film" in 2003. For his performance as Okwe, Chiwetel Ejiofor won the 2003 British Independent Film Award for best actor.


Further reading[edit]

  • Stein, Rachel (2010). "Disposable Bodies: Biocolonialism in The Constant Gardener and Dirty Pretty Things". In Willoquet-Maricondi, Paula. Framing the World: Explorations in Ecocriticism and Film. Under the Sign of Nature. University of Virginia Press. ISBN 0813930057. 
  • Wolf, Clark (2009). "Commodification, Exploitation, and the Market for Transplant Organs: A Discussion of Dirty Pretty Things". In Shapshay, Sandra. Bioethics at the Movies. Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 170–185. ISBN 0801890772. 

External links[edit]