Edinburgh International Film Festival

The Guvnors (2014)

Starring: Harley Sylvester, Doug Allen, David Essex, Jay Simpson, Martin Hancock, Vas Blackwood, Richard Blackwood,

Directed by: Gabe Turner

Rating: 1 2 3

Harley Sylvester (centre) as Adam in The Guvnors

From Oliver Twist to The Take, I like my drama spiked with a bit of cockney rough. And London gangland thriller The Guvnors promised cockney rough aplenty. Better yet, it promised David Essex. Count me in. (David Essex? Long story...)

The eponymous Guvnors were a notorious '80s football firm whose members have all moved on to, if not bigger and better, then at least more grown up things. (In fact it's amazing how well they've done for themselves given their less than promising start in life: architect, advertising mogul, landlord, er, traffic warden...)

Meanwhile, out on the streets, 20-year-old gang leader Adam is the terror of his neighbourhood, but can only dream of garnering the kind of awe and respect still paid to the Guvnors' memory. Worse still, when he disturbs the peace of the firm's dreary local and is unceremoniously knocked out by David Essex, aka ex-boxer, bruiser and all round diamond geezer Mickey, he ends up going viral on YouTube and, well, action must be taken.

But Mickey, it transpires, is the reason our ex-hooligans managed to escape terrace life with a modicum of self-respect. And with his death ensues an escalating battle of brutal, pointless violence that sees the ex-Guvnors regroup to teach the upstart young 'uns a lesson. Except it doesn't quite play out like that.

Plot twist aside, it plays out like a group of grown men who really should know better beating up on a gang of kids who have them completely out-numbered. And there's nothing former Guvnor turned cop Meyler (Martin Hancock, aka Spider from Corrie) can do to stop the bloodshed.

Does this film glamourise violence? If your idea of glamour is sinking a few pints in a concrete clad pub then beating the sh*t out of someone equally block-headed then maybe it does. True, there is something quite exciting and almost heart-warming about the old guys getting the band back together, The World's End style. But then again, like heroin, cocaine and all those other things generally held to be a Bad Idea, there must be some up sides to being in a gang or why would anyone do it?

Certainly there is nothing glamorous about the final climactic battle: Jets vs Sharks this ain't. Instead it's a kind of violence we don't see that often on film: no slick martial arts moves, no blazing machine gun shoot-outs, just bone-crunching skin-on-skin thumping. Ow.

The best thing about the film (aside from David Essex, obvs, who brings an old school dignity and quiet charm otherwise very much lacking) is the tremendous performance by Fresh Prince lookalike Harley Sylvester, who elevates the potentially two-dimensional role of wannabe big shot Adam into a character we almost (l say almost) have sympathy for: an insecure bundle of neuroses concealed by streetwise bravado, laced with blind, uncontrollable fury. Yes, making him care so conscientiously for his little brother is a bit of a cheap emotional shot, but it does hit the spot.

If you're a fan of ID or, um, anything with Danny Dyer in (c'mon on, I'm not exactly a connoisseur of football hooligan movies. Green Street?) then The Guvnors will probably hit the spot. However, I found it hard to get past the unresolved tension between grim parable of violence begetting further violence in an endless, inescapable cycle vs gleeful revelling in the ability of a white-haired old codger to floor a callow youth; an almost hagiographic mythologising of the faces of the past, as if their brand of violence were somehow more honest and decent. Hooligans just ain't what they used to be, not like back in the day when things woz done proper. Etc.

But hey, go David Essex...

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