A businessman. A gentleman. An animal. Opinions are mixed about real-life 60s gangster Charlie Richardson (Luke Goss) in this uneven biopic about the man who led London's notorious "Torture Gang". While the Krays ruled North London, Richardson and his gang stayed south of the river building an empire based on bribes, intimidation, and some claret-spurting violence. Revelling in the nastiness, writer-director Malcolm Needs stokes controversy, turning this dapper villain into a tragic hero. Straight up? Not on your nelly, me old china.
Based around the court case that sent the gangster down for a 25-year stretch, Charlie follows in the filmic footsteps of The Krays, stylishly recreating the criminal underworld of 60s London while charting the life and times of one of its nastiest members.
With an electrifying performance from Goss, who plays Richardson as a cross between a male model and a snarling pit bull terrier, this is certainly a step-up from Needs' last film, the dire East End gangster outing Shoreditch. However, the gratuitous violence leaves a nasty taste in the mouth with Needs pursuing each moment of torture with the excited frenzy of a shark scenting blood in the water: toes are amputated, teeth are pulled out with pliers, and a man is burned with an electric fire.
Mythologising the nastiness while trying to excuse the man himself, Needs does little more than
glamorise his subject. "OK, I was naughty," bemoans the cheeky cockney chappie's voiceover while the rozzers shamelessly fit him up. "I slapped a few people around. But everyone I hurt was in the business. I never hurt outsiders."
As the choral music swells, and the closing title cards celebrate the fact that Charlie "now owns a gold mine" (!), you can't help but wonder why Needs is so determined to play apologist for one of Britain's most notorious criminals. Perhaps someone made him an offer he couldn't refuse?