"Tom Hardy makes other movie hardmen look like they belong on the Muppet Show."

This is an account of the life and times of Michael Peterson, currently in his 34th year of incarceration and, according to many a tabloid headline, the most violent prisoner in Britain.

Born in 1952 in Aberystwyth he settled in Luton with his family. Graduating from schoolyard bully to family man failed to prevent him from being arrested and sentenced to seven years in 1974. It wasn't exactly the Great Train Robbery -Bronson’s thievery netted him the princely sum of £26 and 18p - but he was toting a shotgun at the time.

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Peterson was no model prisoner, brawling with guards and inmates alike and enjoying it. Upon his eventual release, he sought out another ex-con who introduced him to the world of bare-knuckle fights and dubbed him Charles Bronson after the macho Hollywood actor. Freedom was not to last and Bronson was soon back in the slammer.

Full of piss and vinegar and now with his fighting skills honed to perfection, Bronson proved even more difficult. He was eventually declared insane and transferred to a psychiatric unit.

The crimes which saw him put away were of comparatively little import and Bronson would have been out years ago if not for his ongoing belligerence on the inside. He was a player in the Broadmoor riots of 1983 and has added another four hostage-taking incidents onto his record over the years, including a prison library guard and an art teacher. Shakespeare could have had him in mind for the line: 'No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity, but I know none, therefore am no beast.'

Tom Hardy embodies this mad, bad and dangerous to know felon in an astonishing performance that impacts the viewer like a kick in the bollocks and makes other movie hardmen look like they belong on the Muppet Show. Hardy makes Bronson a feral and dangerous force of nature almost deserving the 34 years of solitary confinement.

The film leavens the proceedings with flights of fancy as Bronson regales a theatre audience with his exploits and philosophies, sometimes sporting a surreal clown make-up that does nothing to hide the malevolence of the character.

Nicolas Winding Refn and Norman Brock have created a powerhouse feature that celebrates Bronson’s exploits while never setting him up as a martyr. They employ a muted palette as we explore a variety of decaying prison cells and move to the colours of hell as Bronson does his thing.

Most other characters are peripheral to the action, though Amanda Burton, losing her glam as Bronson’s mum (who still loves her boy), and Matt King, as his effete boxing manager, are worth singling out. And kudos to all the stunt guys who get thrown around in balletic fashion during the fisticuffs.

You can make your own mind up as to whether the sty makes the pigs or the pigs make the sty or some pigs should just never be allowed to go wee-wee-wee all the way home.

Reviewed on: 24 Jan 2009
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Examination of the life of Britain's self-titled "most dangerous criminal". Out on re-release.
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Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Writer: Brock Norman Brock

Starring: Tom Hardy, Matt King, Terry Stone, Amanda Burton, Jonathan Phillips, Hugh Ross, Kelly Adams, China-Black, Joe Tucker, Edward Bennett-Coles, Katy Barker

Year: 2008

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: UK

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