The curious British enthusiasm for violent criminals of the past gets another shot in the arm, or should that be punch in the face, with the release of Simon Rumley’s gangster biopic this November.
The title, with its obvious nod to the films of Leone, would suggest that what we’re going to get is mythologizing on a grand scale. The film tells the story of career criminals Billy Hill, played by Leo Gregory and Jack ‘Spot’, he had a black mole on his face, and Comer, played by Terry Stone. Billy and Jack controlled criminal activity in London from the twenties through to the fifties and in their latter years acted as mentors to The Krays. In their day, they were the most famous criminals in Britain but they have been forgotten by history and this film seeks to redress that lamentable omission.
Rumley describes his film as ‘a tragedy of sorts, but with a largely positive ending. There’s love, loss, violence, tragedy which all add up to a heady drama of violence and intrigue.’ So, a tragedy with a positive ending, it seems unlikely that critics will be applying the adjective ‘heart-warming’ to it though. A pet project of Terry Stone, which was rewritten by Rumley before shooting, the film has been described as ‘Peaky Blinders meets Legend’. Shot on location in London the film utilises the last fragments of a fast-disappearing pre-war London.
An impressively eclectic cast was largely assembled by Stone prior to Rumley joining the project, it includes comedian Simon Munnery, ex footballer Jamie O’Hara, retired boxer and partypoker ambassador, Carl Froch, singers Nadia Forde and JJ Hamblett and magician Ali Cook. Rumley, best known for ‘The Living and the Dead’, ‘Red White and Blue’ and a segment in ‘The ABCs of Death’, has brought two films to completion this year, although ‘Crowhurst’ is yet to be given a release date.
The reason for this isn’t hard to fathom, were Rumley’s film, which stars Simon Armstrong, Justin Salinger and Eric Colvin, to be released it would go head to head with the October release of James, ‘The Theory of Everything’, Marsh’s, ‘The Mercy’, which also tells the story of the ill-fated sailor Donald Crowhurst. Marsh’s film stars Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz, a box office combo which will certainly ensure that Rumley’s film sinks without trace. So, all his hopes will be pinned on ‘Once Upon A Time in London’.