For the last couple of years Network distribution has had a successfully released a series of movies under the imprint of The British Film. These cover a variety of genres and titles and have just started on the second phase of their schedule. As part of this launch come the film versions of the classic seventies cop show The Sweeney.
The film follows the adventures in the criminal underworld of DI Regan (John Thaw) and DS Carter (Dennis Waterman). It starts off in typical fashion as The Flying Squad takes down a gang that is just about to rob a wages van. As this is going on, there are nefarious deeds happening at a London hotel. A young woman records a message to her boyfriend indicating she is going to kill herself. She is then murdered by her companions and left in a compromising position. Her boyfriend happens to be a cabinet minister who is negotiating a major international oil deal. Regan is forced to look into the girl’s death by a friend and this starts a series of events that lead to the very top of government.
The film plays out very much like the TV series. It is shot and presented in the same way and the story beats are pretty much in the same place. It follows the standard action, exposition, interlude, action sequence. That’s not to suggest it is boring in any way. It has charm through familiarity and the action is very well done. There is a certain charm to a fight sequence where neither criminals nor the police are eager to use weapons. A sign of the time really, when carrying a firearm was not common.
The story takes it lead from some other political films of the time. The core of the main plot focuses on the fact that there are unseen forces at work behind the scenes that really do not want to be identified. So, there are elements of Government organisations and private contractors running around eliminating people and evidence without any repercussions. It adds another dimension to the film, one that would not have been given much time in a forty five minute TV show.
The film proudly displays its X certificate at the start (The old equivalent of the 18 certificate) which indicates that this is The Sweeney but with a harder edge. Viewed from the gaze of 2019 it doesn’t seem so bad. For the time it was quite edgy featuring violence, nudity and most crucially here, drug use.
It is a snapshot of the time in terms of equality. There are no persons of colour in the film at all despite it taking place in central London. Women fare little better. There are two women who feature in any significant way. Both are prostitutes and the film takes it time so that both can be seen without clothes on for no other reason than to keep men watching. The film follows its roots in those terms and the remainder of the female cast are on the side as set dressing to be ogled.
The film was made primarily to cash in on the success of the TV show and in that respect it was very successful. So much so that a second film would follow only a year later. There are few surprises within the movie, but it does deliver for fans of the crime fighting duo.