"In this damn country, which we hate and love”: The Pakistani-British Diaspora During the Thatcher Years in My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)

Alisha Mathers

University of Southampton

a.j.mathers@soton.ac.uk

South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership, Arts and Humanities Research Council.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.52715/BNWF5875 

Question Journal, 2021. Issue 6 (2021), pp. 8-17

Abstract

Set in Britain during the years of Margaret Thatcher’s government, Stephen Frears and Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) depicts the complex formation of Pakistani-British diasporic identities in a time of rising migration levels and anti-immigrant sentiment. Thatcher and her government famously celebrated Britain’s colonial past and its legacies in an attempt to produce fixed definitions of what being British meant as a cultural and national identity marker. As such distinctions of Britishness and non-Britishness determined who was believed to belong and who was not, Britain exercised what Jacques Derrida calls ‘conditional hospitality’ (2000): creating an environment which accepts those who it considers ‘British’ enough and rejects those who do not fulfil the dominant notion of Britishness. Due to this political climate, the Pakistani characters’ relationships with ‘Britishness’ are represented as fraught, ambivalent, and in some cases, characters reject Thatcherite ideas of Britishness all together. In the film, the experiences of Pakistani characters — Nasser, Hussain, and Omar — demonstrate that to obtain agency in Britain, some Pakistani subjects had no choice but to work within the system that oppressed them. This paper examines how the three characters individually resist imperial discourse and explores the ways in which My Beautiful Laundrette shows the impact of Thatcher’s speeches on Britishness on the Pakistani-British diaspora during her premiership.

Keywords

Pakistani-British, diaspora, Thatcherism, Derrida, film