Darren, sales manager at a plastics firm in Milton Keynes, is a force to be reckoned with in the British film industry. In part, he’s the reason why British crime cinema – low-budget, morally dubious and about as disreputable as it’s ever been – is the genre that refuses to die. At least, Darren would if he actually existed. Darren, it turns out, is a theoretical construct; an audience archetype identified by Jezz Vernon, managing director of distribution outfit Metrodome, the people who released recent examples of the form such as The Guvnors, St George’s Day and The Fall of the Essex Boys.“We always talk about the buyer of a film,” says Vernon. “For someone like Darren, there’s a certain boredom about his existence, and the attraction to gangsters or football hooligans has a certain aspirational element to it. It might sound worrying, but we liken it to music: the mainstream in UK music has always liked poetic thugs, from Byron to Liam Gallagher. People like the paradox; both the masculinity of it, and the denial of it.”
He is much more concerned with the class barriers [than race] that, in his view, corral the film industry for the well off. “Film is purely owned by the middle classes. Only the middle classes can make the films, but they can’t have those lives. They belong to the working classes. The stories belong to the East End. It’s like a marriage.”
That makes the economics of the low-budget crime movie attractive even if, as Vernon is the first to admit, “they don’t export well”. The culturally specific argot, the narrowly British concern with football, and the genre’s fascination with certain key crimes – notably the notorious Rettendon murders in 1995 – mean that unlike other areas of the British film industry, little concession is made to what overseas audiences, particularly in the US, will make of it all.