Mike Leigh’s Naked (1993) is a wonderful, horrible film. It follows the adventures of Johnny, a Mancunian Raskolnikov, introduced to us in the first scene committing a vicious rape. Repellent yet fascinating, Johnny – played with almost unhinged brilliance by David Thewlis – is presented as an emblematic antihero for our times: rootless and loveless but educated, his mind spewing forth a stream of caustic wit and apocalyptic philosophy into a world in which casual brutality and sadistic sex are the norm.
Critics and audiences were divided . Many were offended by what they saw as its misanthropy and misogyny. Leigh became the target for a series of vitriolic, personalised attacks, particularly from feminist groups. Others, though, saw the film as Leigh’s cinematic coming-of-age and a visionary, if pessimistic, comment on the ‘state of the nation’.
Michael Coveney, the author of The World According to Mike Leigh, the first book-length study of the director, falls, of course, into the latter camp, but he spends what seems a disproportionate amount of time defending and explaining the film and denigrating its detractors. The reason for this is obvious