Released in 1985, Hanif Kureishi's multi-layered social drama, directed by Stephen Frears, is set firmly in Thatcher's Britain. At the centre of this West Side Story of south-east London is the relationship forged across the racial divide between a young Asian, Omar (Gordon Warnecke) and his young friend and lover, Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis), a punkish, white Briton with fascist connections. Surrounding this pair, on the one hand Kureishi creates a view of Britain from an Asian love-hate perspective and, on the other, a sharp vision of life within London's Asian community - where nothing is exactly washday-white either.
Omar (Warnecke) is Asian, 18, unemployed, and lives with his drink-sodden and bedridden journalist father (Roshan Seth). Although "Papa" clings to his old values and wants his boy to go to college to get the education that will be the key to a successful life, he realises that the way out of the present impasse is to enlist the help of his brother, Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey). So Omar is sent to his entrepreneurial uncle and starts work, washing cars. Naseer recognises potential in the wide-eyed Omar and indulges the boy's budding commercial ambition by handing him the keys of his seedy Churchill Laundrette.
To help him face this commercial challenge, Omar enlists the help of his old schoolfriend Johnny (Day-Lewis). With finance raised by dubious means involving Omar's spivvy cousin Salim (Derrick Branche), they lovingly create Powders Laundrette, a sumptuous paradise - brightly lit with banks of gleaming machines, murals on the walls, a tank full of exotic fish, plants, music and videos. The project even promotes an edgy truce between Omar and Johnny's white Pakistani-bashing friends. Watching progress with interest is Nasser's daughter Tania (Rita Wolf).
As the laundrette progresses, so does Omar and Johnny's relationship - and Omar's business acumen. And when they re-open their doors for business with all due ceremony - an eager public streams in - and so does real life with its family and racial tensions...