Source: Reel Screen
06 July 2000
Producer: Jeff Pope
Prod. Company: Granada
Director: Terry Winsor
Screenplay: Jeff Pope and Terry Winsor
Cast: Sean Bean, Alex Kingston, Charlie Creed-Miles, Tom Wilkinson
UK Release Date: July 14th 2000
If a script called 'Essex Boys' landed on your desk you probably wouldn't get all that excited. That is unless an ex-public schoolboy hadn't just dropped his h's and made a quota-quickie down a back alley that propelled him into the same universe as Madonna and Brad Pitt.
And so it is that we get the latest in the seemingly never-ending stream of 'Lock Stock' surrogates. 'Love Honour And Obey' pissed off just about everyone, 'Circus' followed through with a boot to the head, and films like 'The Criminal' seem destined to stay on the shelf for the sanity of all concerned. Then the 'Lock Stock' TV series swaggered past sticking two fingers in the air, and 'Gangster No.1' started confusing everyone by actually being a brilliant film. And now we get just what we've always deserved, a film called 'Essex Boys'.
It's actually completely inaccurate and very lazy to compare 'Lock Stock' to all the films that have followed in its wake. While there can be no doubt that the commissioning execs have excelled themselves in their own stupidity by all jumping on the latest bandwagon and then - oh surprise, surprise - falling foul to the backlash that the tea boy could have predicted, the filmmakers themselves have usually had slightly higher aspirations.
Like 'Gangster No.1', 'Essex Boys' takes itself seriously, avoiding any knowing winks and post-modern ironic tongue-in-cheek shenanigans. Both of the films' makers are quick to dismiss the 'Lock Stock' approach (that probably made theirs possible) as cartoonish buffoonery, their references going back to the likes of 'Get Carter' and 'The Long Good Friday' instead.
Billy (Creed-Miles), a young taxi driver,
is hired by a local Mister Big (the Full Monty's Tom Wilkinson)
to drive for Jason Locke (Bean), a local thug just out of prison.
First port of call sees Locke throw acid in a man's face and dump
him out at sea. Things go downhill from there and little Billy
soon finds himself "up to his neck in it".
'Essex Boys' makes no attempt to break new ground, but does make a very serious effort to make the most of old ground. The characters are all little more than stock figures for the genre; Billy is the innocent thrown in over his head, Locke is the psychopathic animal, Lisa (Alex Kingston) his harder-than-nails wife, and the rest of the cast is rounded out by one dimensional wide-boys, munching on cigars and spitting out smoked salmon sandwiches. Tom Wilkinson's Mister Big is the only unusual character, a well-spoken green-wellie type who is totally unconvincing as any kind of criminal whatsoever.
The script is formulaic enough, although can rarely decide which story it is really telling. Billy's voiceover implies that he is the centre of a rites of passage journey into crime, while Locke and Lisa's turbulent relationship is studied in-depth enough to tip us off that they are actually the main characters, and the rival gangs and overlapping drug deals become little more than a blur of names and places. The structure seems equally off-centre. "Inspired by a single true event that left three men dead, two serving life imprisonment and another living under an assumed identity", the story then goes on past its conclusion to drop in the final twists that this wafer thin connection to reality requires. Hence the last fifteen minutes seem far too laboured - a closer look at the wrapping up of all the loose ends in 'Goodfellas' wouldn't have gone a miss.
Missing either the cool of 'Get Carter'
or the scale of 'The Long Good Friday', and just telling it straight
instead, 'Essex Boys' ends up somewhere in the middle ground between
Mike Figgis' 'Stormy Monday' and Alan Clarke's 'The Firm'. That's
still pretty good company to be keeping, and this is easily deserving
of its place among them - way out and above the likes of 'Circus'
and the rest.
What the film really has going for it is the strength of its lead actors. Sean Bean is as good as he ever has been - which is very good - and Charlie Creed-Miles puts in a surprisingly subtle turn, avoiding the over-the-top mannerisms that his wide-boy on the make could have given in to. It's Alex Kingston, though, who makes the best of what's on offer, creating by far the most interesting and fully-rounded character of them all.
What a shame they called it 'Essex Boys'.
REVIEWER: * * *
'Essex Boys' is a superior TV movie, and on TV it will eventually find a very appreciative audience of several million British couch spuds. It's chances of finding an audience on the big screen it's being thrown onto are, however, pretty minimal. Even if 'Gangster No.1' can navigate the genre backlash, which still remains to be seen, the title 'Essex Boys', and a lack of any real 'style' is unlikely to get many spuds dishing out their tenners for the cinematic Lakeside experience.
The press may not be going to give this as much of a slating as you'd expect though - only three of them turned up to the screening! What that probably implies is that they'll slate it anyway, without having seen it. It's just that title...
AUDIENCE RATING: * *
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