Violence has a starring role in this film, as two generations of London gangsters go head-to-head.
Adam may be young but he works hard to maintain his reputation as the face to fear, on the South East London housing estate where he lives. Backed up, unquestionably, by his army of teenage foot soldiers, he terrorises his neighbours, steels from his fellow criminals and bullies his loyal minions.
The personification of an angry young man, Adam is driven to extreme violence by the inner demons and insecurities that manifest themselves in his need to be top dog. The only chink in his armour of bravado is his dedication to his little brother, who he shields from the realities of his life.
Mitch has been there, done that. Now well into his 40s, his nice family life is a million miles away from the old football hooligan days when his gang, The Guvnors, used to rule the terraces, as well as the streets, led by him.
They were very different times. Back then, disputes were resolved with the fist and even hooligans knew when to show respect. Nowadays, blades and bricks are the tools of the trade and fear has replaced respect as the currency used to gain power and keep control.
After a particularly nasty attack on a young girl, the local police round up Adam and his cohorts. Frustrated at their inability to prove what they know has happened, DC Meyler tells them that back in the day, The Guvnors would have put them straight.
That comment plays on Adam’s insecurities, to bloody effect and Mitch finds that no matter how hard you try, you can’t escape your past.
The Guvnors is a gripping, gritty and realistic script, full of great twists. It falls down slightly in a few places. In particular, more insight was needed into Adam’s absent mum, plus the biggest twist of the film generates little reaction from most of the characters, which really jarred for me. There’s also a fairly big oversight in the continuity – I’ll let you see if you can spot that yourselves. But, overall I really enjoyed the film. It’s another take on the generation of kids whose absent parents have led them to seek an alternative family in the worst possible places. As well as being an interesting – not often examined – look at what happens to ‘ex-nutters’, when they try to move away from that life.
Guvnors is driven by brilliant acting from Harley Sylvester – bizarrely, one half of the sugar sweet ‘hip hop’ duo, Rizzle Kicks (who I really like but would NEVER have imagined in the role of Adam) – as well as Doug Allen, who plays Mitch. Plus, a great supporting cast, including David Essex (!), as Mitch’s old boxing coach, Mickey, and Charley Palmer Merkell as Adam’s loyal sidekick, Trey.
Amazing that this is the first full feature of writer/director, Gabe Turner. He’s done a great job bringing this story to life.
[Watched at the Edinburgh International Film Festival – EIFF]