My grandparents grew up in London's East End and always talked about the faces who ruled the streets but protected their own. On paper, they were just vicious gang leaders but, when they were on your side, you felt safe. The thugs who roam inner-city estates today are not answerable to anyone - including the police - and at the start of The Guvnors we see a gang viciously beating up a girl at the behest of their leader, Shanko (Harley Sylvester, half of hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks), a nasty piece of work who wants "respect".
Respect is what all violent, repugnant youths desire and their clichéd mantra - "you disrespect me..." - is a lamentable justification for committing crime and hurting others. When Shanko starts trouble in a pub owned by former East End hard man Mickey (David Essex, yes that one), he is felled with a single punch and promptly vows to avenge the shame.
Wrongly, I'd assumed The Guvnors of the title were all ex-hard men who kept the East End in order. But disappointingly, writer/director Gabe Turner made them ageing former football hooligans - in other words, no different to the opposition. So instead of a film focused on a psychological battle for control between two generations, we just get another fight movie. Not a bad one, mind you, but a missed opportunity. Some of the old timers have moved on to become policemen, traffic wardens and even successful businessmen. Yet there is nothing much in the script to tell us how.
Handsome Mitch (Doug Allen of The Firm) is one of them and his quiet dignity, together with his concerns about his son behaving violently at school, make him a really interesting character, be it an under-developed one. Sylvester, too, is extremely watchable and adept at being both menacing on the street and compassionate around his younger brother. There is a troubling twist, which I won't spoil, but it could have worked much better had it not been thrown in at the last minute and left hanging. I just wish the great premise of The Guvnors had led to something more substantial and not just another big fight.