Title: The Guvnors
Director: Gabe Turner
Major Players: Doug Allen, Harley Sylvester, David Essex
Out Of Five: 3.5
British gangster movie = lads’ movie, right? Too easy an assumption. Although at first sight you could be mistaken for thinking that Gabe Turner’s The Guvnors fits very neatly into that category.
Admittedly, the testosterone is spread thickly across the screen, along with a side order of blood – some of which actually spatters the camera lens – but thankfully the film offers more than macho posturing and punch-ups. Instead it’s a generational clash of the gang variety.
On a run-down housing estate, the residents live in fear of the local gang, run by the feral Adam (Harley Sylvester, one half of Rizzle Kicks) who doles out his own especially vicious brand of justice to protect his patch. But he can’t escape the reputation of the gang that ruled the roost in the 80s, The Guv’nors, whose stock in trade was football hooliganism. To secure his dominance on his patch, Adam forces the older gang out of their respectable jobs back onto their old patch for one last turf battle.
On the face of it, the two gangs are very similar – driven by violence – even if they operate in different ways. But there is one fundamental difference. The older one was held together by a warped version of family loyalty, drummed into them during their boxing lessons by coach Mickey (David Essex). They stick together like brothers. Adam’s gang is all about fear and domination. He swaggers around the estate, a menacing presence with his hoody and scarred face on the territory he regards as his own – and nobody else’s.
The story that runs in parallel with Adam’s belongs to Mitch (Doug Allen), one of the original Guv’nors who’s left his hooligan days well and truly behind him. Sharp suited and highly respectable with the mandatory blonde wife and detached house, he’s a successful businessman but that innate violence is never far from the surface – as we see when he part destroys his sparkling designer kitchen with just a few punches. When The Guv’nors get back together, he’s the natural choice as leader. It’s as if they’ve never been away. They may be doing conventional jobs, but they don’t need to be asked twice to revert to their original ways. And it’s perversely endearing, with the audience wanting them to teach the young pretenders a lesson. When did you last cheer a traffic warden giving a young thug what for?!
The Guvnors is stylish and slick, with nice touches of near-silent slo-mo. And, while it is definitely violent, it’s not as bloody as you might expect. The really nasty moments all happen off screen so when, for example, Mickey takes a savage beating, we only get a fleeting glimpse of it, with the emphasis placed on the aftermath and the bloodstains on his favourite armchair, which never go away. Even the climax, while vicious, is never quite as blood soaked as you’d expect.
Gabe Turner, who also wrote the script, has also given his cast strong roles to get their teeth into. Most impressive is Harley Sylvester as Adam, who admits he doesn’t want to make it to his 40s. He lurches around the estate like something close to an ape man yet, for all his callous violence, he looks after his little brother with genuine care and tenderness.
When it comes to telling us something new about gang culture, The Guvnors doesn’t quite cut it. It’s not Lock Stock, nor is it especially original, but it’s well acted and ramps up the tension so it never loses its grip as the climax approaches. As a first time director, Gabe Turner has turned in something highly watchable with a generational theme that gives it a broader appeal than just a lads’ film. Dads will probably go for it as well.
The Guvnors goes on limited release around the UK on Friday, 29 August.