This September is a good month for fans of British gangster movies. Fans of the 1970s TV classic The Sweeney will finally get to see Nick Love’s movie reboot starring Ray Winstone. Less anticipated, is the startling, funny St George’s Day from first-time director Frank Harper.
As well as directing the film, Harper also wrote and stars in it. He is ideally suited for the role as a Londoner who has acted in various capital-based crime capers, including Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which often have a football violence slant, such as The Rise of the Footsoldier and The Football Factory. True to form, St George’s Day includes a football hooligan side-plot. This shouldn’t put off those for whom hooliganism is about as attractive as the prospect of a fist in the gob. The plot and some great characters with funny lines are more important to the film.
One of these characters is Frank Harper’s character, gangland boss Micky Mannock who narrates the film. It is generally held that voiceovers should be used with caution by screenwriters – they are not simply an easy way to explain the action that should really be suggested. Well, Micky’s voiceover helps add depth to his witty, intelligent character, but more cleverly it sends us off on wild goose chases of suspicion. Micky can trust virtually no one.
The only people he can truly trust is his cousin and business partner Ray Collishaw played by the hulking Craig Fairbrass and Charles Dance’s shadowy Trenchard, who is possibly a senior civil servant and can certainly pull strings. When it comes down to it, the rest of his crew could either be working for rival gangsters or the police or even both.
Things go wrong when a huge shipment of drugs goes missing in the North Sea and the firm find themselves owing millions of pounds to Russian gangsters who are considerably nastier than them. That’s not to say Micky and Ray are of the criminal-but-basically-good-guys school of gangster hero. They are pathologically violent and don’t mind a quick massacre just to prove it. The only way to get out of the pickle is by pulling off a jewel heist in Berlin using the cover of an England Germany game on that most hallowed of days, 23rd April.
So, the plot twists and then turns like gangster plots do. What marks the film out is that it is very funny, if very sweary. The main characters Micky, Ray and Albert (a dope-smoking Scot based in Amsterdam played with loopy relish by Vincent Regan) are constantly bantering and much of it is very funny. One of the characters is said to have an “Achilles cock” – crude, but describes some men perfectly. The idiocy of trigger happy gangsters is also nicely satirised in another scene where Charles Dance’s character has to prevent two groups of hoods from killing each other at a meet-up.
The mens’ behaviour is completely over the top and the violence is brutal and often wince-inducing. Harper told The Film Review that this was due to budgetary constraints, but it also serves to remind us that these guys may be charming but they are also nasty. This is some distance from Guy Ritchie territory, not only aren’t the heroes not trying to be cool, they are way too violent. Nonetheless one is left with a lingering feeling that Frank Harper has more than a sneaking admiration for these men.
Apart from the main three actors who put in solid performances, the film is filled with smaller roles from a number of well-known faces including Ashley Waters, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, and Sean Pertwee. Former glamour model Keeley Hazell also makes a small appearance as Frank’s girlfriend, (a suitable role considering most women in the lives of these gangsters play a distinctly subsidiary role).
It is hard to make a gangster film without avoiding clichés, so Frank Harper often seems to run towards them with gusto and sometimes send them up too. As well as one gangster who’s a Radio 4 fan, there is a Shakespeare-quoting football thug (to which someone quips that he must be talking about Colin Shakespeare). St George’s Day is so excessive, rude and genuinely Cockney that it may become a cult movie.
St George’s Day is released in cinemas on Friday 7 September, 2012.