The Guvnors (3 stars)

The Guvnors

Rizzle Kicks' Harley Sylvester delivers an outstanding performance in this gangland face-off

What happens when a firm of ageing ex-hooligans takes on a gang of vicious East London street thugs? That's the premise of writer-director Gabe Turner's violent British thriller, which manages to be tense and involving, providing you can get past the lack of sympathetic characters.

Doug Allen plays Mitch, the ex-leader of a firm known as The Guvnors, who once ruled their patch of London with a flurry of iron fists. Having walked away from The Guvnors twenty years previously, happily married Mitch is worried that his troubled son is beginning to emulate his father after exhibiting violent behaviour at school. However, that's the least of his problems, since vicious gangster Shanko (Harley Sylvester, half of hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks) has been taunted into challenging The Guvnors after hearing how respected they were from a local cop (Martin Hancock). When Shanko's humiliation at the hands of 60-something former Guvnor Mickey (David Essex) leads to brutal retaliation, Mitch is forced to reunite the remaining Guvnors and the stage is set for the mother of all gangland scraps, spanning two generations.

Sylvester delivers a stand-out performance as the fearsome, scar-faced Shanko; heightened by an almost hypnotic rhythm in his line-readings. Similarly, Allen's charismatic performance goes some way towards alleviating the sympathy problem, but it doesn't change the fact that the film is essentially asking you to root for a hero that's every bit as violent as the villain.

The script makes the most of its strong central idea and the dialogue is surprisingly decent, with moments of humour offsetting the tension. Similarly, Turner directs with an appealing sense of style (the violence is filmed in such a way that what you think you've seen is worse than what you've actually seen) though he possibly over-plays his hand with a late-arriving twist that threatens to provoke unintentional laughter.

Screening at Cineworld, Edinburgh, Tue 24 & Wed 25 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2014.

The Guvnors

  • 3 stars
  • 2014
  • UK
  • 1h 32min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Gabe Turner
  • Written by: Gabe Turner
  • Cast: Doug Allen, Harley Sylvester, David Essex
  • UK release: 29 August 2014

Violent thriller set among the clans and firms of South East London, bringing two generations together in brutal conflict.