Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais may be better known as the creators of comic masterpieces such as Porridge and The Likely Lads but Villain is perhaps one of their greatest—and most neglected works. Adapted for the big screen from James Barlow’s book, The Burden Of Proof Villain was relased in 1971—the same year as Get Carter and The French Connection. Yet, despite being very much in the zeitgeist, it somehow failed to make the same impact. Fortunately, StudioCanal’s re-issue is a chance for fans of the gangster genre to get their hands on this little-known gem.
Richard Burton would seem like an unlikely choice to play a gay East End psychopath (roughly modelled on Ronnie Kray) but it’s clear that he relishes the chance to stretch those acting muscles. Burton’s Vic Dakin is absolutely electrifying–laced with genuine menace. He doesn’t wast a moment on-screen. Ian McShane is equally impressive as Dakin’s occasional love/enforcer, Wolf Lissner. While a startlingly young Nigel Davenport is superb as the gritty copper hoping to get them bang to rights.
Villain foreshadows the likes of The Sweeny in its ambiguous protagonists, snappy dialogue and—at times— downright nastiness.
Burton’s Dakin is a genuinely chilling study in evil and while Villain may not be easy viewing, it is some of his best work and, frankly, it’s about time that got a re-release.
StudioCanal’s fully restored edition—available for the first time on DVD, blu-ray and digital download—also features an interview with Ian McShane and cultural historian Matthew Sweet.