Business as Usual

Business as Usual is just the sort of little movie that generally gets lost in the shuffle, which is the fate that seems to have befallen it. It actually played at the Cannes Film Festival back in May 1987, and opened in England later that year.

It isn’t too difficult to see why the movie took awhile to open in the United States. For one thing, it’s released by the beleaguered Cannon Films, the upstart studio that has weathered  a barrage of flops and financial hard times. Aside from Cannon’s troubles, the movie itself is modest and rather “British,” and hardly likely to find a broad audience here.

Still, it’s certainly worthwhile. Directed and written by a first-timer, Lezli-An Barrett, Business as Usual takes a basic issue and, without unduly politicizing or preaching, makes some solid points.

At the crux of the matter is a Liverpool manager (Glenda Jackson) of a small fashion boutique, one store of a national chain. When the company’s area manager (Eamon Boland) pays a visit, he gets too feely with one of the clerks (Cathy Tyson, from Mona Lisa) and she tells Jackson. When Jackson registers a complaint to the fellow, she is promptly fired.

Jackson, though she is somewhat reluctant at first, refuses to take the sacking lying down, and rallies her union, her children, and her husband to her side. There’s an element of déjà vu, because her husband (John Thaw) had led a union fight of his own some years before, only to be beaten down and broken. He’s spent the last few years as a househusband.

Jackson gradually puts her case across, the home office starts to feel the pinch of protest, and a gala reopening of the store, complete with bikini-clad hostesses, is ruined by the presence of pickets. In sketch, this may sound like a tract, but the movie almost never gets strident about any of this. It remains focused on the human aspects of the issue at hand.

In fact, the film’s unforced nature probably works against its box-office prospects. If Business as Usual got fiery or overdramatic about its issues, it might whip up some melodrama (the only scene that tips into shrillness involves the unwarranted strip-searching of a picketer). But its grassroots activism is presented as a natural part of one’s duty to oneself – really just business as usual.

First published in The Herald, October 27, 1988

This and a previous short are Lezli-An Barrett’s sole credits on IMDb, but she’s on LinkedIn, so you can look her up there. Beyond that, well, a good cast. I wonder if they regretted going with Cannon.

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