26 July 2000
Source: The Hollywood Reporter
By Mark Adams
LONDON -- British cinema has a thing for crime films at the moment, but at least "Essex Boys" moves away from the commonly used central London locations and bases itself firmly in the nearby county of Essex. The film is also an extremely well-made crime drama, featuring tough but intelligent turns by the male leads and a charismatic, endearing performance by Alex Kingston as a shrewd "Essex girl." Her profile in television's "ER" may help the film's push into the U.S. market.
The incident at the core of "Essex Boys" - a mysterious crime that saw three men shot to death in a Range Rover in a remote region of Essex - is real. But both the story line surrounding this incident and the characters are fictional.
Young taxi driver Billy Reynolds (Charlie Creed-Miles) is hired to drive Jason Locke (Sean Bean), a notorious local criminal who is just out of prison. As Jason sets about gaining revenge on various other tough-guy types, Billy finds himself drawn into the local Essex underworld.
Meanwhile, Jason's long-suffering wife Lisa (Kingston), dumped by her brutal husband, starts a secret affair with John Dyke (Tom Wilkinson), a gentlemanly criminal who also happens to employ the hapless Billy. As various gangs vie for control of the local drug trade, Billy realizes he has been drawn in too far. He finds himself driving both Jason and his gang, who aim to slaughter drug couriers. In a shootout, he is saved by John, who then turns against the young driver when he finds out Billy has been seeing Lisa. John tries to kill Billy, which leads to the final twist and the revelation of Lisa's plotting.
Director and co-writer Terry Winsor has worked mainly in television, but he clearly relishes the transition to the big screen. He uses color well, and he turns the glittering lights of Southend and the beach houses of Canvey Island into fine backdrops to this gritty crime film.
The script by Winsor and his producer Jeff Pope offers nothing startlingly original - young man in too deep, nasty gang boss, wronged and vengeful wife - but they do give their characters enough depth to pull them away from the oft-used cliches.
Though Bean does a good job as the nasty crime boss, the real stars are Kingston and Creed-Miles. Kingston has to deal with stark sexuality and brutal violence, but she instills quiet dignity and steely determination into her character.
Creed-Miles is excellent as the young driver who finds himself dragged - initially quite willingly - into the new world of nightclubs, fast cars, women, drugs and guns until he realizes that he has to escape the escalating violence. He projects innocent charm and honesty.
Also good is the ever-reliable Wilkinson (fresh from his role as Gen. Cornwallis in "The Patriot") who brings depth to the charming, intelligent criminal. His willingness to wield a shotgun comes more from desperation than from a natural bent toward violence.
Technical credits are all good, with a special
nod to costume designer Sarah Lubel for fine work, especially
visible in the notorious attire of the "Essex girls"
-- white stilettos, short skirts and very big hair.
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