Marrakech, 1972 and Julia (Kate Winslet) is living there with her two young daughters Bea (Bella Riza) and Lucy (Carrie Mullan) having abandoned her partner and their father back in Britain. Unfortunately he seems to have pretty much abandoned them as well, as they wait for cheques from him to support them, but there isn't one forthcoming. This being Christmas they do get a present from him, except to add insult to injury he's sent them the wrong one and nothing in the parcel is for Julia or the girls. How is a young woman supposed to achieve spiritual enlightenment now?
The problem about how to move to a higher plane of being when you still have to feed yourself, find somewhere to stay, and all that sort of getting by in life was on the agenda here, drawn from Esther Freud's partly autobiographical novel. Because she evidently still appreciated her mother, the tone here was not too critical, or not as critical as it perhaps should have been given the whole meandering plot is one of parental irresponsibility: Julia does love her daughters, but you get the impression that while she would never come out and say it they are holding her back. At the time of the film, she is still fairly youthful herself, and the indication is that she probably wasn't ready to have children.
Emotionally, at any rate, and although the backstory to her arrival in Morocco isn't laboured or elaborated on too extensively, we can envisage the even younger Julia seduced by an older man, falling pregnant by him twice, and landed with the kids when he moved on, so that when she tries to do the same she found herself dependent on his charity, and later the charity of others. She does get love interest in this new location in the shape of Bilal (Saïd Taghmaoui), who may be a rogue but has a heart of gold, so it's just a pity he has a tendency to run off when he feels the relationship is getting too heavy; Julia isn't needy exactly, but she is far from self-reliant, and the joke is that her children, aged seven and five, are more sensible than she is.
Elder child Bea wants to go to school to learn, for example, something her mother has trouble processing, which leads to a traumatic event or three later on in the story. She and her sister have a close bond borne of living in these unusual circumstances and knowing no one else really can understand what they're going through, so they have their own catchphrases (the title of this movie being one of them) and particular perception of where they are in the world, as you can see they could simply wander off from their mother and she would never hear from them again, and possibly neither would anyone else. The fact that this is what happens to Bea, or almost, might make some viewers more anxious about the children's welfare than others.
Depending on whether you believe the formative years could do with a hefty dose of adventure or not, and all this location shooting director Gillies MacKinnon brought to the tale evoked an atmosphere of strangeness, excitement for being in unfamiliar places, yet also a danger that the three main characters were dangling over a precipice of Julia's unwitting devising. That was the strongest aspect of Hideous Kinky, as what succeeds on the page can look more like an unfocused ramble on the screen, so if it was not for all that local colour they worked in with ease this wouldn't be the most solid of novel adaptations when it was the mood of the setting MacKinnon appeared most preoccupied with. Therefore Julia and the girls were filmed around various parts of Morocco as somewhat obvious song choices played on the soundtrack: White Rabbit is heard when Julia tries to open her mind, Horse with No Name when they're travelling through the desert, that sort of thing. Whether this was an awful warning or an indulgence was up for debate. Music by John E. Keane.