Friday, 3 June 2011

List #4 Top Ten... LGBT moments in British gangster flicks

With the emphasis very much on the 'G' and the 'B'... 
It's time for the Friday list, and as part of YAM magazine's 2011 LGBT Blogathon I've brought forward this list, which I've had in mind for a while. It's always surprised me, the extent to which (male) homosexuality pervades the British gangster genre. This may be in part down to the traditional semi-acceptance (or at least tolerance) of gay mobsters in the UK (as opposed to the much more macho gangster culture in, for example, Italy, the USA, Latin America, Russia etc), or there may be something more deep-seated going on. Frankly, I don't know enough about either the genre or the subculture to qualify any arguments - this is simply a frivolous and fluffy look at my fave queer moments in Brit gangster movies. So here goes:

(By the way, I'm discounting Donal McIntyre's A Very British Gangster on the grounds that, while feature-length, for my money it's a TV documentary, not a gangster movie.)

10. High Heels and Low Lifes
Not a great film by any stretch, but Michael Gambon excels as queer kingpin Kerrigan, exultantly wallowing in foam baths and sipping flash cocktails.

9. The Italian Job
Noel Coward as king of the underworld? Absolutely! Top scene has to be the round of applause from the lags that Coward's Mr. Bridger recieves on entering prison - you can see a twinkle in The Master's eye, as if to say 'all is right in the world'.

8. The Long Good Friday
In which gay gangster and associate of boss Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins), Colin (Paul Freeman) gets bumped off in the swimming baths early on by a startlingly twinky Pierce Brosnan, playing an IRA hitman in his debut film role.

7. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Lock Stock is an aggressively hetero film with obvious (and, presumably, unintentional) gay undertones - you don't have to be a trained psychoanalyst to read much into all those big pointy guns. However, one scene takes the cake - how about one gangster beating another to death... with a rubber penis? Stick that in your pipe, Dr. Freud.

6. Layer Cake
A worthy inclusion if only for the line "He was never gay... Larry used to say 'fuckin' females is for poofs.'"

5. The Krays
It could be argued that real-life celebrity mobster Reggie Kray took the phenomenon of the gay gangster overground, so it's surprising that there's very little homosexuality to be found in the twins' biopic. However, what little there is - and there's not much more than a peck on the cheek - was enough to cause more shock and outrage than any of the (copious) violence.

4. The Long Firm
So I'm cheating now - this was a BBC miniseries - but it cries out for inclusion. Mark Strong's complex, Judy Garland-loving racketeer Harry Starks - based, inevitably, on Reggie Kray - is noe of the great gay gangster performances. Best moment? Any interplay between Strong and Derek Jacobi as the somewhat dissolute aristo Lord Thursby, based on the real-life relationship between Kray and Conservative MP Lord Boothby. 

3. Sexy Beast
"Men or women?", "Oh... absolutely" - thus runs the exchange between slick 'prince of darkness' Teddy Bass (Ian McShane) and upper-crust banker Harry (James Fox) at a posh West-End orgy, a prelude to a somewhat waterlogged sex session. Also later features illegal penetration in a steam bath (sorry). 

2. Villain
A great forgotten gangster flick (and a nasty one at that), Richard Burton - yes, that Richard Burton - stars as Vic Dakin, a bank robber based on, yes, Reggie Kray - with a very young Ian McShane as his boyfriend. Best moment? Tricky (especially given that the major love scene between Burton and McShane was deleted from the final cut), but their first on screen kiss is a helluva moment - apparently ladies-man Burton claimed that McShane 'reminded me of my wife'-  Liz Taylor, of course. Make of that what you will. 

1. Performance
The daddy of them all, it's hard to pick a single moment from Cammell and Roeg's wonderful, trippy, unique movie. Perhaps the sequence in which Mick Jagger, transformed into a slicked-back gangster, lip-synchs to his hit Memo From Turner before a gaggle of queer old hard men; the induction of James Fox's cockney crim into a bisexual ménage à trois by Michele Breton and Anita Pallenberg is also noteworthy.

I was torn on whether or not to included Vincent Cassel's closeted, voyeuristic vor in Cronenberg's London-set Eastern Promises, but decided against it - he's supposed to be Russian, after all. And while I included Lock Stock (because it's so blatant) there are a plethora of gay-subtexted Brit crime flicks, from Get Carter to Gangster No. 1 and many more besides. We could also have had Ray Winstone in London Boulevard or Ian McShane (again) in 44-Inch Chest, though I've not seen either of those movies. Nor did I catch the by-all-accounts pretty poor Mojo, this time starring Harold Pinter as the queer top dog.

As ever, comments below please.


  1. Epic list! I suddenly have a lot more British gangster flicks to see. Gay British gansters? What more to do you need out of life, really? Though if you dig Guy Ritchie, you have to check out Rocknrolla. Major gay romance in that one. Between Gerard Butler and Tom Hardy. You heard me right. In short, it's badass.

  2. Wow, I never thought I would read LGBT and gangster on the same genre. Though I'm not very well-versed in gangster films really.

    No, really. I'm out of my element here. I can only probably say that Vincent Cassel was, I believe, gay in Eastern Promises, right? That's as far as I know.

  3. @ M. Hufstader - why, thank you! Guy Ritchie's a funny one - I quite enjoyed Snatch, but his films do tend to have problems. Rocknrolla got critically mauled over here on release, so I avoided it. Might stick it on the LoveFilm list though and check it out

    @siutou_amy - It's pretty much obligatory now for a British gangster film to have some kind of gay element. They don't feel complete without it. I'm pretty sure Cassel's character was gay in Eastern Promises, but I feel that homosexuality is quite unacceptable in the vory v zakony, Russia's mobster class.

  4. Love that Layer Cake quote.