Wednesday, September 25, 2013


I just watched a great movie, a minor British cult classic, Villain, starring Richard Burton as Vic Dakin, a gay, mother-loving, self-loathing, East End gangster.  The cast seems to include just about every British actor who was alive at the time (Ian McShane, Colin Welland, Joss Ackland, Nigel Davenport, uncle Donald Sinden and all).

The movie was released in 1971, and depicts a London that is at once recognizable and very alien.  The cars are great in that doomed, end-of-the British-motor-industry, and they roam around a beautifully uncongested city where there’s always somewhere to park, though somebody does complain about the “diabolical traffic.”  The city is also apparently immigrant free; only white faces ever appear on the screen.

And of course there’s the matter of 1970s English food.  Those of us who were there at the time have tried pretty well to blot out our memories of the food, and even at the time we went out to Indian, Greek, Chinese restaurants.  This obviously isn’t an option in the all-white London of the movie, so most of the characters eat thin, ungenerous English sandwiches, with a just single line of filling, and no fancy extras, not even a bit of salad as far as you see.  

Even Donald Sinden, playing the pervy Member of Parliament (not as pervy as all that, really) eats vey much the same kind of sandwich, though they’re rather more elegantly presented.

Meanwhile Vic Dakin takes his mum to Brighton for a few prawns and cockles; not exactly exotic but a very loving gesture in the context. 

The character of Vic Dakin is clearly based on Kray-twin, Ronnie, though he and his brother were convicted and jailed in 1969, so I suppose their specific brand of gangsterism, could be regarded as a “sixties thing.”  Certainly the movie is full of dodgy haircuts, facial hair and suits with flared trousers, and the Krays were never having any of that.

In fact there are plenty of pictures of them sitting around in depressing rooms that look unchanged from the early fifties, and although I haven’t found any pictures of them eating sandwiches (mostly I find them drinking tea), I don’t doubt that they did.  There are also quite a few pictures of them having a drink, and sometimes in distinctly non-East End locales, such as this one, taken at 1, Eaton Square: that’s Lord Boothby on one side, Leslie Holt described as a “cat burglar” on the other.

I had heard that Liz Taylor was with Burton while he was filming Villain, and legend had it that she sometimes went behind the bar of the pub where they were filming, and served pints for cast and crew.  It seemed unlikely but sure enough there’s this picture of La Taylor at the pumps of the Assembly House in Kentish Town Road.  Only a cynic would think she might be doing it just for the camera.

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