Vic Dakin (Richard Burton) is a powerful man, and he doesn't like it if someone goes against him by, say, informing on his activities to the police. This is what Benny has done, and he is about to pay the price for his lack of loyalty as Vic and his thugs lie in wait for him in his apartment; when Benny returns in the morning after a night out with his girlfriend Patti (Elizabeth Knight), they grab him as soon as he walks through the door, and order Patti off to make a cup of tea while they beat him up and take a straight razor to him, then hang him out of the window some floors up. All in a day's work for Vic - but his chickens are about to come home to roost...
Perhaps the run of violent gangster movies that Britain churned out in the nineties and 2000s, the ones which were usurped by the similar football hooligan films to some extent, could be traced back to Get Carter, a genuine classic, but most of them resembled the lesser Villain. It was directed by Michael Tuchner, a television director who displayed a real knack for action sequences in this and his next effort, Fear is the Key, a knack that sadly lay largely unexploited for the rest of his career. On scripting duties were venerable duo Dick Clement Ian La Frenais, taking a break from comedy, but still providing a nice line in richly colloquial dialogue.
It is that big action set piece and the lines the actors relish that are the strongest points here, as everything else makes this come across as an average episode of The Sweeney, which is interesting in itself because that series was not to start for a while - obviously there was something in the air when it came to chronicling the seedier side of London life in the seventies. At the time, Burton was lambasted by those who derided his attempt at a Cockney accent (evidently Vic was from the Welsh district of the Big Smoke) and for going way over the top, yet actually he keeps his voice to a low rumble and doesn't overplay until the very end.
Aside from the novelty of seeing this Shakespearean thesp tackling a lowlife character (something Sir Ben Kingsley would pull off to far greater effect in Sexy Beast thirty years later), there's little to engage about Villain, as while the cast set about the slang with aplomb, there's little to distinguish most of them as far as style goes: it's as if they all went to the same Cockney acting school. The main plot concerns itself with a wages robbery that Vic stages which goes wrong, and it's this ten minute sequence where the film lives up to its potential as a gangster thriller as there's a car chase and a lot of fists flying, shot in a rough and tumble approach that enlivens the previously trudging plotline.
Once that's out of the way, it's back to menacing conversations among many familiar faces of the day, but there are a handful of aspects that set this apart, the most obvious one being Vic's homosexuality. The title role was based on Ronnie Kray, although it does not stick to much in the way of biographical details, but there is novelty value in seeing Burton angrily seducing Ian McShane even if you get the impression these parts were downplayed to appease the censors. McShane plays Vic's on-off boyfriend Wolfe, a pimp to the rich who it seems allows himself to be in that position as a survival tactic as he already has a girlfriend in Venetia (Fiona Lewis). Throw in the likes of Nigel Davenport as the detective on Vic's trail and a host of "Hey! Isn't that...?" moments follow, but while there's a decent enough atmosphere of the era to Villain, it never picks up a head of steam to make it essential. If it sounds interesting to you, however, then it probably will be. Music by Jonathan Hodge.