The short, 18-minute film, made after three weeks of rehearsal, concerns a chatty hairdresser, Betty (Alsion Steadman), her shy daughter, Charlene (Wendy Nottingham), and one of her customers, Joy (Sylvestra Le Touzel). Joy works in a chemist's shop and is chatted up by Clive (David Thewlis, in the first of his three Leigh roles) over the Durex counter. "On the one hand there is ritual, physical indignity, rubber, prevention; on the other, new life, love, marriage. Charlene slips sadly and silently between two stools..."
Alison Steadman, who has a hairdresser sister, said later that she loved playing Betty: "If Mike said I could do one of my parts again, that's the one I would choose. I loved her from the word go, the minute I got the curlers and the scissors in my hands. It just clicked. Sylvestra is a terrible giggler, and we just giggled the whole time, it was terrible. Great fun though."
Thewlis's Clive is 'an incipient motormouth' – though not in the same class as Johnny in Naked – with a line in bad jokes; 'What's round and really violent? A vicious circle.'
The Short and Curlies was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Short Film.