Mona Lisa

Movie review by
Alistair Lawrence, Common Sense Media
Mona Lisa Movie Poster Image
Neo-noir British drama has strong language, sex, violence.
  • R
  • 1986
  • 104 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Helping people in need and overcoming differences with others are two key themes. However, the movie is set in a criminal underworld, and as such there is plenty of violence, exploitation, and backstabbing. There is also racist, sexist, and homophobic language and behavior.

Positive Role Models

George is an ex-convict who works for a gangster and drives Simone, a sex worker, from client to client. He has a violent temper but is also shown to be caring and protective. Simone initially looks down on George, but eventually they grow close. However, she is not opposed to using people for her own gains. Colleagues, friends, and family all shown caring for each other, putting aside their prejudices. Other characters are exploitative and violent, often oppressing women and trapping them in sex work they don't enjoy. Underage girls work in the sex industry. Mix of male and female lead characters, some diversity within the cast.

Violence

Character tries to force their way into a family home. They vandalize property when they are denied entry. Character intentionally squashed in a revolving door, done for comic effect. Characters are frequently heavy-handed with one another. Character is bundled out of a car after they have an argument with someone. References to domestic violence, including "cutting their faces." Characters appear with bruising on their faces -- suggesting they are the victims of domestic abuse. A character is hit across the face, before responding by striking the perpetrator repeatedly with a whip. Character is maced when they attempt to take and search someone's bag. Character held by the head and punched in the face, sustaining bloody injuries. Character's arm sliced with knife through their clothing, bleeding shown. Fight scenes include headbutts, kicks to groin and body. Characters shot and killed. Blood spray from wounds.

Sex

The movie centers around a sex worker's driver. Reference to a "knocking shop" in relation to a brothel. Multiple references and instances of hiring sex workers, sometimes against their wills. Sex workers shown walking the streets and being picked up by clients. Characters in strip clubs and sex shops are seen topless and in revealing lingerie. Sex worker unbuttons someone's shirt and appears to instigate a sexual encounter with them. Pornographic VHS video tapes appear in sex shops, along with other sexual paraphernalia. Kissing shown in footage from an adult movie. References to people paying for sex being "sadistic bastards who like little girls." Scene in a sauna shows people in just their towels and underwear. Character shown tied to a bed while in their underwear -- partly to comic effect. Character in just their underwear is shown not enjoying being touched by another.

Language

Language used includes "f--k," "cow," "Christ's sake," "bleeding" as an exclamation, "bugger about," "dingbat" as an insult, "piss holes," "Jesus' sake," "whore," and "bastard." Racially charged language describes non-white neighbors as "them," and other Black characters as "darkies," "Black tart," and the "N" word. A Black character is referred to as having a "tan." Sexist language. Derogatory reference to lesbians as "dykes."

Consumerism

Conversation about consumer goods. Character is given a beeper and bought expensive clothes for work. Extras and supporting characters appear expensively dressed in lavish hotel lobbies. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes in pubs and hotels. One smokes in a church. Reference to drug-dependent characters and their poor health. Drug paraphernalia shown after use.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mona Lisa is an award-winning neo-noir British drama with offensive language -- including racist and sexist terms -- and occasional bloody violence. George (Bob Hoskins) is an ex-convict who leaves jail, gets a job driving for a sex worker, and is slowly drawn further into London's criminal underworld. There is an adult, dark tone throughout, with the movie's gritty 1980s backdrop involving many attitudes and ideas that will jar with today's audience. These include patronizing and derogatory terms for women and minorities, along with aggressive behavior, including swearing and violence, directed toward women by men. This language includes variants of "f--k," as well as use of the "N" word, and the homophobic slur "dyke." Sex is referenced more frequently than it is shown. There is partial nudity shown on occasion, as well as fetish clothing, and sex acts being heavily alluded to, as George frequents strip clubs and brothels. The violence includes assaults with knives and guns. There is some consumerism with wealthy characters hiring sex workers and buying expensive suits and gifts. Characters are regularly depicted drinking and smoking. In one scene, there is also evidence of drugs having been injected.

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What's the story?

Set in London during the 1980s, MONA LISA tells the story of recently released ex-convict George (Bob Hoskins), who gets a job as a driver for a sex worker, Simone (Cathy Tyson). With the two spending more time together, their relationship changes and they grow ever closer.

Is it any good?

A compelling, multiple award-winning performance from Hoskins as George, the movie's naive and occasionally thuggish protagonist, is the high point of this classic British drama. Where Mona Lisa falters slightly is its script's lack of pace and plot, which results in its story often struggling to serve the cast's impressive work of portraying 1980s London and George's descent into a criminal underworld.

Tyson too deserves enormous credit for her portrayal of Simone, a self-assured sex worker who nonetheless suffers at the hands of the men who control her world. The two leads provide fizzing chemistry, while solid supporting work from Michael Caine and Robbie Coltrane add menace and some deadpan comedic touches, respectively. So despite the occasional dragging plot, there's more than enough screen presence for this to be an enjoyable, and occasionally uncomfortable, slice-of-life movie from an often-forgotten era.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about some of the language used in Mona Lisa. Did you find any of it particularly shocking? Do you think it would have been as shocking when the movie was first released, or has what we deem acceptable changed over the years? If so, why do you think that is?

  • How was sex portrayed in the movie? Was it affectionate? Respectful? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.

  • Talk about the violence in the movie. How did it make you feel? What did the movie have to say about violence? Did it glorify it?

  • Discuss the relationship between George and Simone. How did it change over time? Did the movie have the ending that you expected? Would you describe either of them as positive role models? Why, or why not?

Movie details

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