Friday 7 October 2016

THE GUV'NOR review

Upon its release in 1998, Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels instantly became one of those films you could completely devour, finding out about who these actors were and where they came from. Did you know Jason Statham used to be an Olympic swimmer? Or that Dexter Fletcher was in The Long, Good Friday as a child? Or that the Cockney henchman used to be a bare knuckle boxer with ties to London gangsters? Guided by his son Jamie, The Guv'nor looks at the history of the man who started out as muscle for hire, became known as 'The King of the Bouncers', and then eventually a film star, Lenny McLean.

Aided by the use of grainy videotape that shows him scrapping in the ring, right from the off the film announces who McLean was, then follows Jamie on a trip around London to try and find out why he was the way he was. Included on Jamie's tour is the run-down shed where his father trained to be a boxer (now a public park), and the location of the nightclub where his father was shot while working on the door (now a Pret a Manger). This was a very different London, and Lenny was tough enough to survive it.

Jamie is a lively cockney geezer, and like his father, a natural in front of the camera. It's clear that Jamie has been delivering stories about his father for his entire life, but that he sees the documentary as a chance to dig a little bit deeper into Lenny's past, despite the reluctance of a number of family members to take part. Still, this absorbing documentary doesn't shy away from talking about the demons that made him the man he was (some that appear to be present in Jamie, albeit diluted), and despite his public history as a boxer and late in life film star, there's still a few things that prove to be revelatory.

His time as a fighter is well documented here, and even goes to the lengths of visiting a modern bare-knuckle boxing match to show how tenacious a fighter he was in comparison. His rivalry with Roy Shaw (in which he took over the mantle of The Guv'nor) is used to show how committed to the art of boxing he was, and there's a number of talking heads, including Lock, Stock co-stars, who describe what a tough but loveable man he was in his later years (the film was dedicated to him after he died a few weeks before its release).

In pugilists parlance, this documentary doesn't appear to be pulling many punches, but it chooses to slip past some topics it prefers to leave alone. There's a lot of talk about how things were done "in them days", including some stories of horrific violence inflicted by Lenny, but (perhaps not surprisingly) there's no one willing to say a bad word about him on camera.

In that respect The Guv'nor is an often one sided depiction of McLean, but this film (from the producers of Gascoigne) uses its impressive resource of archive footage to paint a portrait of a family man who, with incredible ferociousness, fought his demons his entire life to become a modern folk hero. There's a recently wrapped dramatisation of his life on the way coming from the same producers, but they've got a fight on their hands to cover Lenny's 'Raging Bull meets Legend' life story as well as this documentary does.


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