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REGAN
Blu-ray. Network.

ReganThe Sweeney was a huge TV hit in the 1970s, spawning two feature films and several imitators, but since the Eighties, it’s been sneered at by many critics and TV producers, who found the violence and machismo of the series offensive and laughable. Even now, mention of the show will result in stereotyped ridicule in many circles. It’s a pity, because it was one of the smartest, toughest cop shows we ever had, and in a world of tiresome detective dramas and self-impressed police procedure shows, we could do with a show like this (and no, Life on Mars doesn’t count!).

Regan was where the series began – an episode of Armchair Cinema (which I assume was a more cinematic version of Armchair Theatre) that introduced us to hard-nosed Flying Squad Detective Inspector Jack Regan, played with perfection by John Thaw. Regan is tough, cynical, world weary (someone tells him he looks ten years older than he is, and they are right) and not above breaking the rules in he has to. Facing the possibility of becoming redundant (in all senses of the word) as the police force goes through changes, Regan sets out to nail the killers of one of his men (who we see getting beaten up in the pre-credits) despite being warned off the case by his superiors and inter-force rivals. Roping a reluctant Detective Sergeant George Carter (Dennis Waterman) in to help, Regan delves deep into London’s gangland to break the case before the powers that be break him.

This is vintage Sweeney – unlike many pilots, the mainstays of the series all show up here, and the combination of unvarnished brutality and social realism that made the series so impressive is at the fore here. Regan is a man who has thrown away his personal life for his career, and Thaw’s portrayal of him is suitably complicated and nuanced.

While the show and this film were clearly influenced by the crime movies of the era – most notably Get Carter, which The Sweeney most resembled in atmosphere, but also the likes of Dirty Harry with its flawed anti-hero. At the time, it must have seemed revolutionary; seen now, when there is nothing like this on TV, it seems remarkably fresh and potent. And those who see the show as nothing more than a collection of catchphrases will be thrilled to hear that Regan’s first line of dialogue is “put your trousers on – you’re nicked”.

Downbeat, gritty and rather marvellous, Regan is essential for fans of British crime movies (it’s arguably better than the first Sweeney film, and certain better than the sequel). Hopefully, the complete series will follow on blu-ray.

This edition features a commentary from Waterman, director Tom Clegg and Ted Childs, which is unfortunately a bit rambling, with all three struggling to remember anything, and the option of a music-only track, which is worth a listen.

DAVID FLINT

BUY IT NOW (UK)


 

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