Where the United States had celebrated crime films such as Dirty Harry and The French Connection. The UK had Get Carter and Sitting Target. But one classic UK 70s crime film coming to Blu-ray for the first time, that is often forgotten about is Villain starring Richard Burton.
Vic Dakin (Burton) is a sadistic, gay, East End gangster with a mother fixation. For many years he has made a living from running a prosperous protection racket and, so far, has avoided arrest. After being tipped-off about a potential payroll heist, Dakin decides to step up his criminal activities and starts planning the job. He recruits a gang from the criminal underworld, including Wolf Lissner (Ian McShane), his occasional lover. This leads to greater danger and greater exposure with Police Inspector Bob Matthews (Nigel Davenport) watching his every move, determined to finally catch him in the act.
What helps Villain stand out more than the other films of its ilk in the 70s was how well it was written. Not only is Dakin a complex character, but the film is also able to show London and indeed England in a state of disrepair. The country is falling apart, everyone can be bought because everyone needs the money. Other than the elite, everyone else is just trying to keep their heads above water. Is it cynical? Very much so, but it isn’t too farfetched for what would be happening for the low key crime gangs during the time.
Dakin was obviously written to represent Ronnie Kray, someone who would dote on his mother but was also homosexual (Though Kray was bisexual). An easy character to write on paper, but writing duo Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (The Bank Job, The Commitments) wisely choose to enhance the character. Not only is Dakin a monster who loves his family, but he is also very much insecure about his age. He knows life and age is catching up with him and has to figure out ways to impress his younger lover.
There are not many movies during this time that would put that much weakness into the person we are meant to fear. It is a weakness that also, quite cleverly is one that does not make us feel sorry for Dakin, a mistake a lot of writers still make today for their “villains”. By making Dakin so insecure in this midlife crisis and in general with his life we still have no pity for him. No matter how much he dotes on his mother and continues with his jokes. We as an audience still want him to see justice and that is a very difficult balancing act to achieve. Dakin is not the anti-hero. He is very much the villain and that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Burton does appear to be revelling in playing such a character, but his accent does drift. This isn’t really an unexpected critique as Burton was not known for his range of accents. Luckily for the audience, this doesn’t remove us from the film luckily. Obviously cast because of his star power. Burton is able to let his experience and presence felt throughout, commanding the screen. In fact, it is the supporting cast of Ian McShane and Davenport who play their roles quite well. These performances help lift the entire film to a greater realm of believability. A question does remain regarding Villain. With such a strong script and a cast. All of whom produce great performances. Why didn’t Villain perform better and why on earth isn’t it better known to audiences?
There are theories regarding the reason that Villain has often been ignored by audiences outside of the UK since its release. One such theory was that it involved the main characters whose sexual orientation. Being gay and a horrible figure would greatly affect the US box office. Villain does a great disservice to the gay community. Especially, considering that during this time gay characters would and should have been shown in a more positive light. Even if there were evil or terrible gay characters, as long as a good character was there to help the equilibrium. Maybe it would not have been derided and used as a stereotype.
Despite all of this the reason for the lack of success most likely lands somewhere in the amount of violence present in the film. Without a doubt, Villain is a nasty film which tends to veer towards the graphic side of violence a little too much. When perhaps it could have reigned itself back in a little.
Villain, in the end, is a must-watch film. It shows a fascinatingly multifaceted, brutal character in Dakin who wasn’t too far from his real-life influences. A great and underseen adaption. Don’t miss it.
-NEW Interview with Ian McShane
-NEW Interview with Cultural Historian Matthew Sweet
-Behind-the-Scenes Stills Gallery
Special features are a tad on the slim side but are nonetheless interesting. The 15-minute interview with Ian McShane and a 26-minute interview with Matthew Sweet. Both provide some interesting tidbits that are well worth your time watching or listening to. Next, we get the standard stills gallery and trailer.
Despite the limited special features the sole reward from this is, of course, the film. Perfect for those who want to see a nastier crime film with a complex lead.
Villain is available now on Blu-ray and digital via https://amzn.to/37725Rg.
Crime, Thriller | UK, 2019 | 18 | (UK) | Digital, Blu-Ray | Dir. Michael Tuchner | Richard Burton, Ian McShane, Nigel Davenport, Donald Sinden, Fiona Lewis