Essex Boys Review

Essex Boys was marketed as a sort of "Lock Stock" wideboy movie. Since it is actually a downbeat and gritty thriller based on fact that was probably a mistake; it certainly didn't make me eager to see it. More's the pity, because this is an intelligent and atmospheric account of the infamous Rettendon Range Rover murders which took place some years ago. Considering how awful most British crime movies are at the moment, it's quite a compliment to say that this one is genuinely watchable even if it's nothing special.

The story is told through the eyes of Billy (Creed-Miles), a teenager who is working as a casual taxi driver and errand boy for Mr D.(Wilkinson), a minor gangster and friend of Jason Lock (Bean), a psychotic mobster who has just come out of prison. Billy becomes Jason's driver and witness to his various acts of brutal violence; beating the grass who sent him down and burning his face with acid, and throwing a rival thug through the top window of his flashy casino. Billy is initially fascinated but then appalled by Jason's behaviour as he becomes more deeply involved in the world of drugs and violence.

To the director, Terry Winsor's credit, he refuses to glamourise the violence perpetrated by Jason. He's a vile thug who beats his wife, rapes his girlfriend and then casually proceeds to betray anyone who makes the mistake of trusting him. The film shows the attractions of this lifestyle but also, without flinching, the human debris left along the way. In this respect, the character of Lisa (Kingston), Jason's wife, is pivotal. Kingston gives a superb performance as the bloodied, beaten down woman who eventually turns to devastating effect during the climax. One scene in particular, where, having discovered her husband shagging his girlfriend in a shed, she is beaten by Jason and kneels in the mud screaming defiance, is a truly powerful moment. She's the only rounded character in the film. Billy remains a rather tedious innocent on the sidelines with a moronic commentary that spells out things we already know; Sean Bean's Jason is genuinely scary but stays on one note throughout the film; and Mr D remains something of an enigma. Tom Wilkinson underplays the character impressively but doesn't manage to convince us of his underlying ruthlessness.

The doom-laden atmosphere is effective, enhanced by the use of location filming in Essex during the winter. I could have done without Colin Towns's pulsating music score though which is entirely designed to get the audience nervous about what's about to happen. The violence is graphic but fairly brief; a torture scene is thankfully curtailed and fast cutting keeps us from seeing the exact results of Jason's impromptu cosmetic surgery. I don't know how close to truth the film is but it doesn't sensationalise too much and the narrative accumulates a genuine power during the second half when the plot gets going. The problem is that it all feels rather parochial and it looks like a TV Movie - which is what it is essentially since it is a Granada Films production. There are moments when it transcends these limitations, usually when the splendid Alex Kingston is on screen, but otherwise it's a perfectly watchable example of a film which is always competent but not exactly essential viewing.

The Disc

This is a Pathe release and I had expected a good transfer which would compensate for the dearth of extras. Unfortunatly, the picture quality is poor and the soundtrack isn't much better.

This may be just a fault of the check disc I was sent but the picture quality of this DVD is disappointing. For a start, the 1.85:1 transfer in non-anamorphic which doesn't help matters. Quite apart from a generally washed-out appearance and weak colours, there is a considerable amount of artifacting which mars many of the night scenes. There is also a softness to the picture which results in a lack of detail. I can't believe this is the best that was possible with the material to hand.

The soundtrack is a 5.1 track but since there is little surround information and almost nothing from the rear speakers, it sounds more like a straight stereo track. The music tends to dominate the soundtrack.

The only extra is a theatrical trailer which is nothing special. There are 16 chapter stops and the main menu is backed by the increasingly irksome score.

I enjoyed Essex Boys more than I had expected to; it's certainly an improvement on the thousands of other British crime dramas released in the wake of Lock Stock. However, the DVD release is disappointing and I can't really recommend it.

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