Politically incorrect film reviews – The Sweeney (Robert Henderson)

by Robert Henderson

Main cast Ray Winstone, Ben Drew, Damian Lewis, Hayley Atwell and Steven Mackintosh.

Robert Henderson

The latest filmic incarnation of the 1970s TV series the Sweeney is a serious mess. (For those unfamiliar with the TV series, the Sweeney is rhyming slang for the Flying Squad = Sweeney Todd – an elite (London) Metropolitan Police unit dealing with armed robberies and other serious armed crime). The film, as with the TV series, is built around the operational head of the Flying Squad Detective Inspector Jack Regan (Ray Winstone) and his second in command Detective Sergeant George Carter (Ben Drew).

The action is removed from the 1970s to the world of the modern Metropolitan police. This time shift alone makes the film utterly implausible, because the routine mistreatment of villains and suspectsin the film would simply be impossible in the present day world of taped interviews and all too pervasive recording equipment. An officer might get away with it once if he was dealing today with a villain who had reason to keep quiet about the abuse but not over and over again. Nor will you find suspects being routinely interviewed without a lawyer. The extent of the violence, especially the frequent gun fights, adds to the absurdity. If the film had remained set in the 1970s, the audience might just have swallowed the mistreatment of suspects just as they did with the TV series Life on Mars, a recent TV police drama set in the 1970s, although the extensive use of guns would still have seemed ludicrous because even today the British police use guns on a remarkably small number of occasions a year and did so even less in the 1970s.

But the updating of the film is not the most glaring implausibility of the film. This is an equal opportunities production . Whereas in the 1970s TV series and the two original film spin-offs the Flying Squad was resolutely white and male, here it is crammed to the gunnels with , yes you’ve guessed it, blacks and women. (There is a double pc score in two cases because two of the women are black). Even in the achingly politically correct modern London police force you would be startled to the point of a cardiac arrest to find that half the staff in an elite unit like the Flying Squad were either black or female. Just to put the pc cherry on the cake, Carter is given a black stepson.

As so often happens with the inclusion of black characters in modern films, they are utterly peripheral. The pc quota has been filled and the pc gods placated. The white women with one exception are also non-entities. The exception is Nancy (Hayley Attwell) . She is the wife of an officer Ivan Lewis (Steven Mackintosh) from the Met’s internal affairs division who is investigating the misbehaviour of the Flying Squad. Nancy is also Reagan’s mistress. To prove that women really are equal to men we see her roughing up suspects (very unconvincingly), punching villains, shooting guns and finally, just to show a female character can do the lot, getting killed in a gunfight.

The political correctness of the film, primarily feminism in this case, sits very queasily with the non-pc nature of Reagan and the Flying Squad. The film is trying to have its 1970s era cake while trying to stuff a 2012 politically correct tart into its mouth at the same time.

There are other serious problems. The film is built around a tiresomely improbable and convoluted plot based on the revenge to be exacted by a villain Allen (Paul Anderson) who was “nicked” by Reagan years before and sent down for a long stretch.

Then there is the relationship between Reagan and Carter which was central to the success of the TV series and earlier films, with Reagan as the erratic DI and Carter as the person who regularly covered for him. This film also puts the relationship between Reagan and Carter at the centre of the action. The problem is the relationship does not work. John Thaw who played Reagan in his earlier incarnation was nothing like such as blunt instrument of an actor as Winstone and Dennis Waterman as the original Carter had a much larger and intrusive personality to project than Drew, whose default expression in the film was a near catatonic God I’m being so cool. Winstone and Drew just do not gel as a pair. Perhaps most damaging to the relationship is the loss of the considerable humour between Reagan and Carter which existed in the original Sweeney. The original also had a good deal of genuinely funny interaction between the Flying Squad as a whole. That has gone as well with vulgarity mistaken for humour in the 2012 version. The considerable screen- time devoted to the Reagan/Nancy affair also weakens the Reagan/Carter character development.

The only enjoyable thing in the film is Winstone’s Reagan sounding off against his bosses, villains and anyone else who gets in his way. Then his considerable screen presence momentarily blots out the general failure of the film. The rest of the cast are strangely insipid, including both Reagan’s boss Frank Haskins (Damian Lewis) and the Steven Mackintosh as the internal affairs investigator.

Should you go and see the film? All I will say is older Sweeney fans should resist the temptation . Keep your dreams.


  1. I must have had a mental block to put Reagan instead of Regan The strange thing is I spelt the name correctly the first time around. Thanks for pointing it out.
    As for the film, what did you enjoy about it?

  2. That you hit an extra key whilst hitting hundreds is neither here nor there. You’re not a machine. And… I agree with you entirely Robert. The film is supposed to be entertainment but sadly the directors/producers must belong to the pc brigade and therefore unable to resist putting out their dated propaganda. They should stick to schools and universities. It seems that perhaps Rich has already become so dosed that he’s unable to see it for what it is let alone be distracted by it.

  3. Ha ha, yeah I agree that calling Regan Reagan is neither here nor there I was just pointing it out. Many years ago when Ronald R was shot a friend of mine’s mother shouted ‘Reagans been shot’ to her husband to which he replied ‘is the Sweeney on’? That is neither here nor there but it is why the Reagan thing rang my bell. Maybe the writer was also influenced by the extra ‘a’ and that’s why Hayley Attwell’s character was named Nancy?

    Anyway, I enjoyed the film because it was just what I expected of it, plenty of old fashioned shoot-outs but set in modern London. I watched the film without even noticing the number of black people although I agree there did seem to be a lot of tooled up lady coppers. I didn’t notice any wheelchair-bound Police admin types either. Did Nick Love slip up there or did I miss something? Was I spending too much time watching and enjoying the film rather than analysing the content and ticking my PC checklist? Talking of PC. I think Carter was a DC and not a DS Robert. He was up for promotion to Detective Sergeant in the plot wasn’t he?

    Yes the plod, sorry plot, did have some holes in it, Regan’s character, the interview sequences and chases were far fetched. Also, I can’t believe that Regan would have been sent to Prison at the mercy of all the slags he’d previously banged up. Or that the arrest of the shot blagger would not have put the Gravesend boat trip in doubt. Now I’m starting to think It wasn’t such a good film – but hey, I still enjoyed it !

    This was the first Politically Incorrect film review I’d read and only came about it by chance and I enjoyed reading it. The Sweeney is also the first movie I’ve seen at the cinema since Alpha & Omega – a film about two young wolves at opposite ends of their pack’s social order who are thrown together into a foreign land and need each other to return home. Who fall in love. That was 2 years ago. The most memorable thing about that film was that my daughter dropped her popcorn. I think the one before that was War of the Worlds.

    Rich – the film bluff !

  4. Rich : there was something decidedly odd about how Carter was referred to. He was called and referred to himself as Officer Carter, a most American usage, As for his rank, if he was meant to be only a DC it was rather odd that Regan treated him as second in command and the other FS members deferred to him. A DI running a unit would always have a DS working under him. If it was not Carter whjo was it?

Leave a Reply