Directed by Paul Van Carter this documentary takes a look at the life of notorious hard man Lenny McClean, as seen through the eyes of his son Jamie.
Often times the myth is bigger than the monster, however in the case of Lenny McClean he most certainly lived up to his moniker and his notoriety. The Guv’nor however tries to look at Lenny’s life a little differently, with his only son Jamie trying to show a different side to his father than the public knew and feared. Refreshingly Jamie doesn’t eschew the ugly side of his fathers legacy, retelling his own experiences in addition to the stories of those who knew Lenny without overly glamorising his actions. The feature length documentary starts by digging into the harsh upbringing Lenny experienced at the hands of his stepfather, as well as growing up in the conditions of post war Britain. It paints a picture that life was hard for a young Lenny, which gives reason to some of his behavioural developments as he got older. These experiences however don’t justify what Lenny wound up doing.
The very start of the documentary shows footage of an old unlicensed fight Lenny was involved in. His opponent headbutts him before the fight starts. Then as the fight officially begins Lenny flattens his opponent with his first punch. It makes a frightening statement, Lenny McClean is a hard man. Unfortunately the statement doesn’t end there, nor do Lenny’s actions. Lenny proceeds to stamp and kick his dazed opponents head as he lies on the canvas, delivering an unrelenting assault on a person unable to defend himself. Three men climb in the ring and try to refrain Lenny from continuing his attack. At one point Lenny delivers a blow that makes his opponent go unconscious and stiff, but a raging Lenny clearly incensed by the pre-fight headbutt continues the attack. Lenny goes from hard man to unstoppable force, with actions that aren’t evil but uncontrollable.
As the documentary and Jamie go on to reveal, Lenny was never a despicable person who would commit acts without reason. He was a family man who loved those close to him doing anything for them. But the slightest instigation could set Lenny off into a spiral of rage. During an interview Lenny confesses one of the worst things he has done in a bare knuckle fight was biting someones nose off. That isn’t bare knuckle fighting, that is violence. Facts like this, which the documentary bravely doesn’t hide, make it difficult to empathize with Jamie’s feelings towards his father even though his intentions are honest. This is further compounded by the Jimmy Briggs story where Lenny coughed up human flesh after trying to bite Jimmy’s throat out after a squabble. A horrific story that isn’t glossed over, but makes it incredibly hard to share the feelings of showing Lenny’s softer side.
The most revealing and intriguing part of the documentary is the absence of Lenny’s immediate family outside his son. Lenny’s siblings decide against talking about their brother on camera for reasons that aren’t fully revealed until the end of the documentary, and then they aren’t fully explored. It’s an instance that speaks volumes about the family relationships and Jamie’s initial understanding of his father not quite being who he thought he was. The Guv’nor is a documentary that uses archive footage excellently, notably in detailing the events between Lenny McClean and Roy Shaw’s brutal trilogy of fights. But encompassing the life and times of Lenny McClean is a big task, especially when family are unwilling to share details of their experiences. Jamie may have fond memories of his father, but the strength of these rose tinted recollections aren’t enough to gloss over the raw unflinching actions of someone who nearly killed a man.