Ray Winstone comes full circle in his prolific acting career as the lead in the British police actioner The Sweeney. The title itself is cockney rhyming slang and takes off on the name of an elite police squadron that investigates violent crime, The Flying Squad. Get it, Flying Squad, Sweeney Todd.
“We’re the Sweeney, shithead. You’re nicked,” Winstone tells one suspect he arrests at the start of the film. The thing is Winstone began his career in the mid-70s with a small walk-on role in The Sweeney, a popular English television show that ran for four seasons. “It was an iconic show starring two of the then biggest stars there were,” Winstone tells Free Press Houston in a phone interview. Speaking from London, Winstone adds, “It was the first police show that was known for its realism.”
In the updated The Sweeney justice is brutal and swift as the Flight Squad investigates an armed robbery that ends with an execution style murder. The Sweeney’s tactics even briefly land Winstone’s character DI Jack Regan in prison. Hayley Atwood, Ben Drew, and Steven Macintosh co-star.
The Sweeney includes one bold public shootout that was filmed in Trafalgar Square. “To give you an idea of how respected the show is here, the only other films that gets permission to shoot there are James Bond films,” notes Winstone.
While Winstone may be best known to American audiences for roles in films like The Departed (Mr. French) or as the lead in Sexy Beast his resume includes some pivotal roles in British cinema, like The War Zone, Nil By Mouth, and another current film Ashes, a drama dealing with Alzheimer’s that Winstone laments only got a disc release.
One of Winstone’s earliest roles was as a pompadour wearing Rocker getting beat up a gang by a gang of Mods in Quadrophenia (1979). “I looked like Liberace in that film,” laughs Winstone. “I came in one night and it was on television and I was watching it with my kids. It was kind of freaky because they were the same age then as I was when I made the film.”
Other recent Winstone roles include Edge of Darkness (“Mel [Gibson] is a genius actor.”) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (“It was a thrill to actually get to see Spielberg and how he works.”). So what is the main difference in making films in England or in America?
“Well, in London when you leave the studio to go home it’s rainy and grey, and in L.A. when you leave it’s palm trees and sunshine,” says Winstone. “And sure there’s the difference in budgets, but wherever you are at the end of the day it’s about making the best film you can.”
— Michael Bergeron