Shut It, You Slag: Why Nick Love's Reinvention Of The Sweeney Is A Terrible Idea

Yes, you heard me right, The Football Factory's Nick Love is making a Sweeney movie starring Ray Winstone and - get this - Plan B. Trouble is, somebody beat him to it. Twice.
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Yes, you heard me right, The Football Factory's Nick Love is making a Sweeney movie starring Ray Winstone and - get this - Plan B. Trouble is, somebody beat him to it. Twice.

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Ah, The Sweeney - the TV show of the 1970s. Violence, nudity, car chases - what more could a kid/teen/man old enough to know better want from a programme? It's so good in fact that it still stands up pretty well today. Okay, so the fashions - principally the women's haircuts and the width of the ties and the trouser legs - anchor Ian Kennedy Martin's creation to the decade where taste went for a burton (courtesy of Burtons). But thanks to the potency of the action, the efficiency of the story telling and the quality of the performances this celebration of the Flying Squad is the equal of many a modern cop serial.

Of course, The Sweeney mightn't mean a lot to anyone born post-1980. But that's all about to change. Nick Love, director of The Football Factory, The Business and Outlaw, is to follow up his remake of Alan Clarke's The Firm with a big screen 'reinvention' of the show that gave the English language such memorable phrases as, "Shut it!" and "We're the Sweeney, son, and we haven't had any dinner." And who has Patsy Palmer's ex cast as DI Jack Regan and DS George Carter? Why, none other than Ray Winstone and - I still can't believe I’m typing this - Ben Drew, aka Plan B.

Now, before anyone writes in to complain, I'm aware that Plan B isn't just another of those pop stars who's got on the phone to their agent saying "what I really want to do is act". I've seen him in Noel Clarke's Adulthood and 4.3.2.1 and Daniel Barber's Harry Brown, and while he didn't blow me way, he was far from unforgiveable. It's not the idea of casting Plan B that's a problem, then - it's the idea of casting him as George Carter.

While Lucas and Walliams got a lot of mileage out of how he likes to "write the theme tune, sing the theme tune", there's no escaping the fact that Dennis Waterman’s a top TV tough guy. Okay, so his range isn't massive, but if you need someone with tenacity, rough diamond charm and a decent right cross, Dennis is your man. He’s not just a terrific tough nut, mind. Just check out 'Hit And Run', the Season Two episode in which Carter's wife Alison (Stephanie Turner) is murdered - you'll never see a better portrayal of quiet devastation than the one Waterman provides.

If Drew doesn't have a chance of out-doing Dennis, Ray Winstone's going to have a hard time living up to John Thaw

If Drew doesn't have a chance of out-doing Dennis, Ray Winstone's going to have a hard time living up to John Thaw. Of course, unlike his co-star, Winstone is a gifted performer who's been the best thing about number of films and TV programmes (his psychotic Will Scarlett made Robin Of Sherwood so much more than just a kids' show). Thaw, though, was in a class of his own. Although he was richly rewarded for his work on Inspector Morse, there was more to the Mancunian master than being able to nurse a pint while carrying Kevin Whateley. As Jack Regan, his hawk-like countenance combined with a ferocious bark could at times make him seem truly frightening. But like most good people, even this most gifted of performers could never completely hide the decency within him. As such, Regan was often easy to sympathise with and sometimes downright loveable.

The Sweeney in a nutshell

Although his actors are on a hiding to nothing, it's Nick Love who has the most to lose from reimagining The Sweeney. For one thing, rule-bending cops are now the norm rather than the alternative. When Regan and Carter started plying their trade, archetypal honest Bobby George Dixon was still patrolling the Dock Green beat. Now that The Shield and The Departed have wised everyone up, Love would cause more of a stir if he depicted a PC PC rather than, say, a constable with a coke habit.

Then there's the small matter of there already being not one but two decent Sweeney [] movies in existence. Shot in 1977, Sweeney! (like what they did with the exclamation mark there) features a Who's Who of British film and TV favourites. Barry Foster (Van Der Valk), Ian Bannen (The Offence, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), Colin Welland (Kes, the script for Chariots Of Fire), Brian Glover (An American Werewolf In London), Johnny Shannon (Performance), Diane Keen (Doctors), Bernard Kay (Doctors again), Nadim Sawalha (Julia and Nadia's dad) - my, you even get to see Oxo mum Lynda Bellingham in the buff. Besides its cast of thousands, Sweeney! also features a compelling State Of Play-style storyline centring on Foster's Alistair Campbell-esque PR exec and his attempts to corner an OPEC conference at any costs. Rightly famous for lines like "Alright, Tinkerbell - you're nicked!", Sweeney the film, like the best episodes of Sweeney the series, also features bit player extraordinaire Tony Allen as Bill The Driver.

Only an idiot would think of trying to give The Sweeney a fresh spin

Allen makes his customary uncredited appearance in the unimaginatively titled sequel Sweeney 2. Boasting a bigger budget and Ian Kennedy Martin's brother Troy (The Italian Job) on screenwriting duties, the follow-up features a gang of bank robbers who use their loot to support an idyllic existence in Malta. Add Nazi sympathisers, a porn actress and a vegetarian police officer to the mix and you have a pretty heady affair, made that much stranger by the familiarity of the cast - Denholm Elliot plays Regan's corrupt mentor, Nigel Hawthorne is the Chief of Police and Brian Hall (Terry the chef from Fawlty Towers) essays one of the blaggers.

Sweeney 2's ace in the hole, however, is that greatest of all British bad guys Ken Hutchison. The wretched Norman Scutt in Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, Hutchison was the man you called whenever you need a hulking Scottish bad-ass. Awesome as Heathcliff in the BBC 1978 adaptation of Wuthering Heights, Hutchison's Matt Harvey leant some much-needed menace to that old favourite The Onedin Line. He's also very good in the soon-to-be re-released Blonde Fist where he shares the screen with two of Britain's most formidable females, the Scouse actress Margi Clarke and wrestling legend Klondyke Kate.

Though he looked at home opposite Robert Mitchum in The Wrath Of God, Our Ken never could crack Hollywood. Still, when Dickie Attenborough needed someone to administer Mohandas K Gandhi with his first of many beatings, chances are he didn't chat to too many people before putting a call through to the Hutchison household.

So there you are - a never-bettered TV show, two incomparable performances and a brace of perfectly fine feature films. Only an idiot would think of trying to give The Sweeney a fresh spin. Listen to these excerpts from the Outlaw director's commentary and you might agree that Nick Love (featured here alongside his actor-of-choice Danny Dyer) is just the right cunt for the job.

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