The brutal true story of Britain’s most notorious and dangerous prisoner Michael Gordon Petersen aka Charles Bronson is given an expressionistic makeover by gifted Danish auteur Nicolas Refn Winding (Pusher Trilogy, Fear X, Bleeder).
From his respectable Welsh upbringing to petty crime, prison, solitary confinement and tabloid hysteria Bronson’s trajectory through the second half of the 20th century is unique. Here is a man who has never murdered anyone and who’s collected takings from his crimes that would not even cover Sir Fred Goodwin’s lunchtime sandwich bill; and yet he has spent 34 of his 58 years in prison, 30 of those in solitary confinement; largely for crimes committed in prison (hostage taking, GBH, riot incitement etc). Add to this the fact that, his anger management problems aside, Bronson’s eccentric and polite ways have won him as many fans (and quite a few wives) as detractors.
In short, Bronson is a very modern British phenomenon, a bipolar enigma in search of some kind of celebrity endorsement. Fittingly writer (along with Brock Norman Brock) and director Winding approaches this rich material without ‘big house’ cliché (McVicar this is not). Bronsonis the portrait of a man who finds his place in the world, his pride and his status while being retained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
From the outset this is Bronson’s show. Brilliantly portrayed by young British actor Tom Hardy (RocknRolla, The Inheritance), handlebar moustachioed Bronson presents a vaudeville interpretation of his life. Like Ken Russell’s wonderfully vulgar 1970 Tchaikovsky biopic The Music Lovers, Bronsonmixes flashback, nightmare and fantasy on the same canvas. As the film opens up from the protagonist’s stand up routine, it becomes obvious that this is an atonal, complex and unconventional simulacrum of Bronson’s story, one that is very much rooted in the look and feel of British cinema of the 1960s and 70s (Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s Performance, Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Lindsay Anderson’s If...are the most obvious touchstones) It is, however, to Kenneth Anger’s 1972 experimental short Lucifer Risingthat Winding really looks for his meter, Anger’s feel for the iconographic, the unjust and the nonsensical informs every frame of this outstanding film, from the slow motion fight scenes to its hellish portrayal of the UK’s mental health prisons.
Bronson is an amazing achievement, a cult film for sure but one that will live beyond all our lifetimes. Anthropologically it is invaluable; artistically it is a complex and unforgettable masterpiece.
General release, Fri 13 Mar.