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An embarrassment of Ritchie’s

06 March, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Craig Fairbrass as Eddie Franks in Villain

VILLAIN
Directed by Philip Barantini
Certificate 18
☆☆☆☆

IMAGINE a gangster film which shows how being a criminal is actually a horrible, desperate state of affairs. A rare thing, indeed – and something director Philip Barantini has managed to do with ease and aplomb.

In Villain, starring Craig Fairbrass as the recently released ex-convict who comes out to face a number of problems not of his own making, there is no Mockney gangster Guy Ritchie nonsense.

If you had a face-off between these characters and those in any of Ritchie’s films, you’d soon see who the real bad boys were. I’d bet my house on Ritchie’s mob running squealing back to their posh nannies.

When Eddie Franks (Fairbrass) finishes a 10-year stretch, he is met at the gates by his brother Steve (Nicholas Aaron).

The pair of them own a pub somewhere in Hackney, and Eddie believes his sibling has been running things well, kept it all on an even keel, and his return will be warm and trouble-free.

But, of course, things are not so straightforward. Brother Steve and his girlfriend have been putting the pub’s money up their noses, and some hefty-looking troublesome chaps are on their case.

Eddie has to figure out a way of getting said gangsters, played with wonderful menace by Robert Glenister and Tomi May, off their backs, revamping the pub so it turns a coin, and keeping himself out of trouble so those cells doors never open for him again.

This London drama is a very nice surprise.

At first glance, it has clichéd gangster movie written all over it, but it is nothing of the sort. With parts shot in Camden Town – look out for the High Street, and scenes in the fabulous old-school jeweller, Lake and Son, down by Mornington Crescent – this feels very real.

What is also refreshing is it doesn’t try to pretend to be something it can’t be.

It doesn’t go for big shoot-outs and fast car chases, or ask too much of the special effects team as if it is aware the budget won’t stretch to make it feel right – so director Barantini hasn’t bothered.

Instead, he has coaxed great performances from all but one of the cast (there is one dodgy accent, which stands out simply because everyone else comes over as perfectly believable).

For a cast of unknowns and ex-EastEnder types, it just goes to show you should enter a cinema with an open mind and prepare to be pleasantly surprised.

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