“I look what I am – a hard bastard!” – Lenny McLean
Lenny McLean was arguably the end of an era for London’s East End gangland. Why? Because, after icons like the Krays and Frankie Fraser, Lenny was a criminal who transcended into celebrity culture and became a charming legend; despite being an unlicensed boxer, convicted criminal and prisoner, he was ultimately known as an author, businessman, actor and TV personality. This is something that simply doesn’t happen anymore. Lenny lived a fascinating life, and now the time has come to learn his story. This is The Guv’nor.
Lenny’s son Jamie acts as our guide here, taking us through Lenny’s life with a combination of archive footage, photos and interviews with Lenny’s friends and peers. What may initially seem like glorification of a thug ultimately becomes a touching tribute to a misunderstood man, and a surprisingly poignant study of the effects of abuse, OCD and anxiety. It is far more than it appears. The Guv’nor is a truly remarkable film about a remarkable individual.
It’s clear throughout that this is an extremely personal project. Jamie’s passion for his family history comes through in every anecdote, and you can feel the love he has for his father. Those among you who like me didn’t know anything about Lenny might be thinking this film is just going to be Jamie telling us how great his violent father was. But it’s much more than that. First of all, Jamie is the first to admit that his dad wasn’t perfect. None of us are. But when discussing his dad’s violence, he delves deeper than you might expect. It transpires that Lenny was harshly beaten as a child, and may have even been suffering from mental illness – a very brave story to tell from Jamie, which I wholeheartedly respect him for. One harrowing and unexpected scene comes during an interview when Jamie is the victim of an unprovoked attack, presumably for “the sins of his father”. People are arseholes, aren’t they?
The Guv’nor has a large focus on Lenny’s darker activities, sure – but it also spends plenty of time discussing his best-selling book, public personality and, of course, his role in a certain British classic. For those of you who haven’t put two and two together, Lenny McLean was Barry the Baptist in Guy Ritchie’s iconic debut Lock, Stock & 2 Smoking Barrels, and after his untimely death in 1998, became the face of the film’s marketing. A poignant moment in the film discusses how Lenny would’ve been overjoyed in the knowledge that, at the end of his life, ‘his’ film was no.1 at the box office and his book was no.1 in the book charts. He would probably love this documentary, too. A legacy is what we all want.
The Guv’nor is a stunning piece of work. Despite trying to give reasoning behind Lenny’s violent side, it never feels like it is making excuses. It never feels like glorification or endorsement. And yet, it is a loving tribute. That is the sign of a well-made film. It can take a complex figure who has a dark side, and fill you with respect for him. Despite being referred to as “the hardest man in Britain”, he had a soft side. The lasting and iconic image of McLean is that of his best-selling memoirs’ cover photograph. But you know what they say…
Never judge a book by its cover. The Guv’nor is a fascinating tale, affectionately and honestly told. Remarkable. 5/5
The Guv'nor at CeX
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