Villain (1971)
By: CJ on May 25, 2009  | 
Optimum Home Entertainment (UK). Region 2, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 mono. 94 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Michael Tuchner
Starring: Richard Burton, Ian McShane, Nigel Davenport, Joss Ackland
Screenplay: Dick Clement, Ian Le Frenais
Country: UK
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The British gangster film is a very mean animal indeed – they always seem more rough and brutal than their American counterparts. Villain is no exception to this rule and displays a nastiness that is very much lacking in similarly-themed American gangster films of the time; that is until Coppola's The Godfather took the levels of violence up a notch or three. Villain is very much a product of its time, hailing from 1971, and touches on some rather controversial themes – just as Get Carter had a few months previously, which itself probably set a new benchmark for British crime movies.

Richard Burton plays Vic Dakin, a ruthless but gentlemanly East End gangster. There are many facets to his character; he dotes on his mother, rules his gang with an iron fist and has a boyfriend who he periodically beats up. It's actually a rather shocking moment when you discover Vic is actually gay – not that I'm homophobic; it's just that it's entirely unexpected. Dakin is approached about doing an armed robbery, which is not Vic's usual style, but the £70,000 payoff is too much to resist. But there is a problem: there is a copper hot on his trail, determined to catch him out and put him behind bars. Dakin then has to assess whether he can pull off the job without being caught, which he of course believes he can. The film then follows this cat-and-mouse game through to its inevitable conclusion.

Villain boasts taut direction and uniformly excellent performances from the cast, which reads like a who's who of British talent at that time – Ian McShane, Joss Ackland, Nigel Davenport, T.P. McKenna, Colin Welland and Donald Sinden. For fans of British cinema, it's pure joy to see all these people on screen in such a wonderful film. And wonderful it is – it's at least the equal of Get Carter and should rightly be hailed as a classic. Michael Tuchner directs with a sure hand and drives the film along at a crackling pace. Burton and co each give superb and enthusiastic performances and the script is full of dry wit. The script was actually penned by Ian Le Frenais and Dick Clement, who were more well known for writing Brit sitcoms like Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? and Porridge. This cinematic work is an absolute gem and seems to have been overlooked for many years, more than likely overshadowed by the equally magnificent Get Carter. Villain is everything a Brit gangster movie should be – touching on themes of sadism, violence, greed, repressed or twisted sexuality and, obviously, criminal activity. The character of Dakin himself is undoubtedly based on the real Brit crime boss Ronnie Kray, one half of the Kray twins.

If British cinema is your bag, then you owe it to yourself to check this out. Burton is on top form and is ably supported by a superb cast. The London locations are fantastic, full of that 70's griminess and grubbiness that we've all come to love - so head to the nearest online DVD merchant and grab yourself a copy. You won't regret it.
It was nice to finally see this in its proper ratio of 2.35:1 and Optimum have done this film proud. The anamorphic presentation is sharp and crisp and there appears to be no evidence of print damage whatsoever; it looks pristine. There is also no sign of compression artifacts – and nor would I expect any in this day and age.
A single audio option is available on the disc – a 2 channel English mono track. It's perfectly adequate though and I would hardly have expected a remixed 5.1 audio option. To be honest, it's not the kind of film that needs audio fireworks, so I'm glad Optimum didn't go down that route – sometimes those 5.1 audio remixes do more harm than good and just end up sounding gimmicky and false.
Extra Features
Nothing to report here, the disc is completely devoid of extras, which is a bit of a shame. Even a short featurette would have been welcome. Oh well, I guess we just get what we're given. There's scene select, if you consider that an extra – but that's your lot. Still, I'm happy enough to have the film itself on shiny disc.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A stunning film that's been given a lovely digital makeover by Optimum. The lack of extras is a bit disappointing, but don't be put off - it's the film that's the main course here and that's all that counts, really. This is a fine of example of British gangster cinema at its best. Anyone who loves movies should give this a watch at least once. Trust me, it's essential viewing.

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