Sweeney! (1977) – Film Review
Director: David Wickes
Cast: John Thaw, Denis Waterman, Colin Welland
by Sarah Morgan
Is there a more iconic British crime drama than The Sweeney? Probably not. Those of us raised on it, or who have come to it late via almost endless repeats on ITV3, will no doubt be thrilled to see that the movies are now being made available on blu-ray.
For the uninitiated, The Sweeney took its name from the cockney rhyming slang for the Flying Squad (Sweeney Todd, geddit?), and started life in 1974 with a one-off drama entitled ‘Regan’ for ITV’s ‘Armchair Theatre’ series. A year later, creator Ian Kennedy Martin turned it into a TV series and the rest is history. Not only did it revamp small screen police procedures by ditching the cosy feel of Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars, it made stars of John Thaw and Dennis Waterman.
During the 1970s, several TV hits were turned into movies, and The Sweeney followed suit, although curiously renamed Sweeney!– which makes it look more like a musical version. Thinking about it, a musical version of the show would be pretty incredible…
The film was written by Ranald Graham, who penned several of the show’s episodes, and he seems to have enjoyed being able to give his imagination free reign – where censors might have stepped in to tone down some aspects of the programme (although it was considered gritty for its time), no punches are pulled here.
Instead, nudity (both Linda Bellingham and Diane Keen are – shock, horror – seen topless) and violence go hand in hand, as well as an extraordinary amount of boozing and smoking from the leads. Incidentally, it only takes about 14 minutes for the first “shut it!” and 17 for “you’re nicked!” to be said too.
Rising government minister Baker is blackmailed into going along with a dodgy plan masterminded by McQueen, his sleazy American press agent. When Regan is asked to investigate the supposed suicide of an informant’s mistress, he realises she may have been caught up in a conspiracy involving the two men, but after being discredited, struggles to see justice done.
“A cracking film”
Thaw and Waterman are typically charismatic in the lead roles, although audience members at the time must have wondered why their co-star Garfield Morgan, who played boss Haskins, was missing from the cast.
However, the supporting actors more than make up for his absence. Among them are Ian Bannen and Barry Foster (who would later appear alongside Thaw in an Inspector Morse episode) as well as Yorkshire lads Colin Welland and Brian Glover.
Sweeney! is a cracking film and about a million times better than the terrible revamp starring Ray Winstone made in 2012.
‘Sweeney!’ is released on Blu-ray by Network, £11.70