London’s East End was synonymous with gangs and violence back in the late 1960s. With names like The Krays and Ronnie Biggs on the tip of everyone’s tongue, there was one man who struck fear into those who even looked at him the wrong way, Lenny McLean.
The name may not be familiar to all, but his iconic facial expression will stick with you, and if you were on the wrong side of him haunt you for the rest of your days.
So when we are introduced to a 27-year-old Lenny in the film My Name is Lenny, you instantly recognise the sinister grimace from the young bareknuckle fighter – played brilliantly by Josh Helman.
The film, directed by Ron Scalpello, focuses on the early years of McLean’s foray into the boxing world, with the main three acts punctuated by fights with a man known as ‘The Guv’nor’, Roy Shaw (Michael Bisping).
Even though in his later years McLean was a known associate to many in the London crime scene, My Name Is Lenny gives a human element to the man who is known for speaking with his fists more so than his mouth.
Clever flashbacks reveal a time when McLean was not the icon brawler he became, but a terrified child being beaten and verbally abused by his stepfather.
It is the constant presence of his younger self (Jack Veal) the pushes McLean to fight and prove himself as top-dog.
The film is as much about grisly punch-ups – which there are plenty of, one in particular where McLean takes on a whole group of gypsies with ease only to complain they made his tea go cold – as it is about the East End hardman’s internal battle with his childhood and the external fight with alcohol.
Helman may be the star of this film – this would be a performance the big man himself would have been proud of – but Chanel Cresswell, as loyal wife Val and Nick Moran, as boxing coach cousin Johnny Bootnose also play a huge role in the tale, especially Cresswell who is the perfect foil to the iron exterior McLean puts up.
My Name is Lenny is Brit grit at its best. Brute violence, with a hint of comedy all tied up nicely with a tug at the heartstrings just to remind the audience this monster of a man has feelings too.
The film may not be particularly groundbreaking, but it is the birth of ‘The Guv’nor’, and it is a fascinating journey to go on.
My Name is Lenny is out Blu-ray and DVD now.
Dir: Ron Scalpello
Scr: Paul Van Carter and Martin Askew
Starring: Josh Helman, Michael Bisping, Chanel Cresswell, Nick Moran and Charley Palmer Rothwell
Prd: Jamie McLean, Michael Mendelsohn, Nick Taussig and Paul Van Carter
Music: Ian Arber
Country: United Kingdom
Run time: 91 minutes