Villain (2020)

Villain, director Philip Barantini’s feature debut, is an ironically titled, violent slice of old and new crime in the East End, with a dominating performance by Craig Fairbrass.


by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Craig Fairbrass (Rise of the Footsoldier, EastEnders) dominates the film physically and emotionally as old-school villain Eddie Franks, who returns to his East End patch after ten years in prison. His ageing is shown through the fatherly relationships he created with inmates and warders. The only asset he has left now is the pub he owns, but it has been run (down) in his absence by his weak younger brother Sean (co-screenwriter George Russo).

Eddie finds that many things have changed while he was away. Although he tries to hide it, his useless brother Sean is involved with drugs and a bolshy stripper (Eloise Lovell Anderson) and the pub’s failing. Spineless Sean is being exploited by the local gang barons, another pair of brothers (the Garretts, Robert Glenister and Tomi May) to whom he is deeply in debt, for reasons Eddie slowly discovers.

Eddie’s still a big, strong, hard man. He faces the bad situation he’s been put into head on: it pushes him back into his usual violence and criminality, even though he had intended to go straight. At the same time, he tries to fulfil his intention to make amends to the people in his old life that he hurt. He finds out that he has a grandson he has never seen.

Director Philip Barantini says he was inspired by the 1971 gangster drama Villain starring Richard Burton, released on 30 March for the first time on Blu-Ray & digital and DVD. Barantini’s Villain is a genre film but a rather superior, well-made one that manipulates your sympathies. The dialogue is steeped in the right underworld argot and though there’s a lot of gory violence, it’s briskly concealed by clever editing.

The conflict is that Eddie and gangsters like the Garrett brothers are dinosaurs but don’t realise it yet. The code of honour they lived by doesn’t mean anything any more, except to them. The new 21st century London Eddie finds on the outside is multiracial: there are new technologies. His old contacts have retired, either gone away for good or longing wistfully for one last blag to relieve the boredom of comfortable respectability. But the world they knew is now inhabited by a new kind of criminal that – fatally – doesn’t play by their rules.

Villain is released on 28 February 2020 in the UK.

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