Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Villain (1971)

Courtesy of Canal+ Image UK ltd

Main image of Villain (1971)
35mm, 98 mins, colour
DirectorMichael Tuchner
Production CompanyAnglo-EMI
Producer Alan Ladd Jr
 Jay Kanter
ScreenplayDick Clement
 Ian La Frenais
MusicJonathan Hodge

Cast: Richard Burton (Vic Dakin); Ian McShane (Wolfe Lissner); Nigel Davenport (Bob Matthews); Donald Sinden (Gerald Draycott); T.P. McKenna (Frank Fletcher); Joss Ackland (Edgar Lowis)

Show full cast and credits

East End gangster Vic Dakin hatches an ambitious plot for a wages snatch.

Show full synopsis

Meet Vic Dakin, your everyday London businessman and murderous, sadistic gang leader: the sort of diamond geezer who would shake your hand prior to nailing your head to a passing milk float. Vic loves his dear old mum and would only ever harm other criminals/anyone who crossed him/random passers-by. His more innocent hobbies include complaining about the decline in British morality - "We should never have abolished the National Service" - and a part-time sado-masochistic gay relationship. Any resemblance between Vic Dakin and Ronnie Kray was quite deliberate.

1971's Get Carter (d. Mike Hodges), enjoys a cult afterlife and is now regarded as one of the defining crime dramas of its era. The same year's Villain, however, quickly vanished into a shadowy existence of late-night television airings. Based on James Barlow's excellent 1968 crime novel Burden of Proof and adapted for the big screen by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais - then famed for The Likely Lads (BBC, 1965-66) - Villain boasts more than its fair share of quotable dialogue: "Stupid punters. Telly all the week, screw the wife Saturday".

The film's casting coup was Richard Burton as Vic. When Villain entered production in 1970, Burton's star was on the wane, but the part allows him to experiment with a Cockney accent that varies between early Sid James and vintage Dick Van Dyke, and to eat the scenery at every conceivable opportunity, albeit not without a sense of humour. Burton portrays Dakin as a very house-proud gangster, who favours an eminently respectable Rover P5B Coupe as everyday transport

As with Get Carter, the prevailing mood is one of bleak depression, and Michael Tucher's direction captures a realm of cheap and seedy violence. The film takes every opportunity to display Vic's sheer brutality, not least when he beats up James Cossin's bitter office manager, who acts as his inside man in the wages snatch. Villain underwhelmed at the box office, partly because of its utterly unglamorous approach to on-screen violence but also because of Burton's central role; UK memories of the recently incarcerated Krays may have been fresh, but they were less known elsewhere. But it remains a film that is in dire need of reappraisal. Had Dakin survived to the present day, he would probably have published several volumes of self-justifying memoirs glorifying violence and thuggery. And, perhaps, made the odd ironic cameo in a 'Brit-Gangster' flick of the 1990s.

Andrew Roberts

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. A nice Jaguar S-Type (6.24)
2. A little chat (2.09)
3. 'Who are you looking at?' (4.03)
Never Let Go (1960)
Burton, Richard (1925-1984)
Challis, Christopher (1919-)
Clement, Dick (1937-) and La Frenais, Ian (1936-)
Davenport, Nigel (1928-2013)
La Frenais, Ian (1936-) and Clement, Dick (1937-)
Sinden, Sir Donald (1923-)
Welland, Colin (1934-)