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Directed By Paul Van Carter
Captivating and thought-provoking from the outset, THE GUV’NOR packs a punch.
The documentary is an intimate look at the life of Lenny Mclean, the East London born boxer and minor celebrity who died in 1998. The opening moments of the film contextualise McLean through a patchwork of talking heads and footage filmed throughout his life. It creates an impression of an intensely violent man, alluding to increasingly sinister depths. It charts McLean’s life from his difficult childhood that lead to his bare-knuckle boxing then his experiences as a bouncer at various venues in London, through to becoming a writer and then, finally as an actor in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
The film is woven together by Lenny’s son, Jamie, as he explores his father’s life. Cleverly constructed, the film creates intrigue about what the darker compulsion in McLean’s pursuit of violence may have been. Initially, it appears that McLean was brutish as a result of his upbringing; experiencing violence and abuse at the hands of his stepfather. However, McLean’s overwhelming desire to create a peaceful and loving home for his family, juxtaposed with the abject violence he demonstrated in all other areas of his life, is one of his most endearing qualities and suggests that his aggression stemmed from elsewhere.
Jamie McLean portrays his father’s life by drawing on his own memories and the recollections of others. These personal memories and anecdotes are interspersed with videos of McLean fighting and training. The savagery of the man is portrayed as something fundamental to his personality and almost a positive quality as one of the recollections graphically describes how McLean beat and mauled one of his friends to death.
Shots of McLean in the ring show him as a stunning but unconventional boxer; his perseverance and power exhilarating to the spectator, terrifying to his opponents. McLean is shown to initially rely on pure aggression and power that evolved in to a more subtle, controlled technique.
McLean’s notorious rivalry with Roy ‘Pretty Boy’ Shaw is charted and illustrates McLean’s drive to be The Guv'nor, portraying his resolve and tenacity when training to beat his opponent, his nemesis, who also believed himself to be the Guv’nor.
Despite allusions to spitting out human flesh, murder and a predilection for violence, it is still almost possible to feel compassion for Lenny, particularly as his struggles with his inner demons become more apparent. It becomes very raw when Jamie McLean speaks about these issues, especially as many of the other family members refuse to talk about McLean. Jamie’s own tendency towards violence is documented when he is filmed in an altercation when intending to interview some who had known his father.
The concluding comments voiced during the credits feel a little trite as people in the East-end are asked their views on McLean and all speak favourably. They were being asked by the man’s son and one who does not appear to tolerate affront any more than his father would have done! However, it would seem that, at least to those who were not on the receiving end of his violence, McLean is remembered positively and with respect.
THE GUV’NOR is not simply a documentary following the ups and downs of an East London cheeky-chap, it is also a fascinating study of the fragility and vulnerability of a man mainly associated with ferocity and violence and his position in society. This film is a must-see not only for those interested in the man or boxing, but anyone with an interest in a snapshot of the history and culture of the East End of London.
The Guv'nor in select Cinemas 7th October and on DVD, Blu-ray & Digital Download 10th October, 2016
Holly Darling Freeman
Britflicks Talks With Jamie McLean on the set of MY NAME IS LENNY
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