The End Review: The Death of The Cockney
Is it possible to make a heartfelt documentary about brutal, thieving East End gangsters?
Nicola Collins seems to think so.
Les Falco opens his daughter’s documentary by paraphrasing Aristotle: “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime,” he says, and we become aware that despite the fact that they would “tear a man’s head off for eight or nine grand” most of these men regard themselves as modern Robin Hood-types, substituting the trusty bow and arrow for a length of lead pipe and a knuckle duster.
The idea behind The End is inspired. Nicola Collins knew that, by crafting the film with her sister Teena and using their father’s mates as subject matter, they were more likely to receive genuine answers to their probing questions. There’s no doubt about it, the filming style is rudimentary and the structure is predictable but the Collins sisters succeed in unmasking these gangsters, and showing their “hidden depths”. After all, every one of them is somebody’s son.
Many of the men began their criminal careers with violence. As Bobby Reading puts it, they were “raised on boxing and pigeon sh*t.” The typical parental response to bullying? “If they hit you, hit them back. If you can’t hit them, kick them. If you can’t kick them, throw a brick at them.” When the men discuss the particularly violent moments of their past there are some montages of newspaper clippings and “dark” background music that come over like a thug’s version of 90’s TV show 999.
The violence is handled in a fairly detached manner, although some of the stories are particularly gruesome (Alan Mortlock’s grim pub-garden-slasher moment in particular), the “East End fraternity” are presented as balanced characters. They all believe in ‘The Code’: that one must help old ladies across the road, stick up for women and children, and most importantly you don’t hurt your own people. As Mickey Goldtooth so poignantly puts it, “A Cockney would give away his a***hole and sh** through his ribs for you.”
So what of the future? All involved agree that the East End is a far cry from its former incarnation. The stereotypical traders have gone and the markets have lost the noise and fun that typified them. Asian culture has made on its stamp on the East End, with Brick Lane now famous for its many curry houses and not much else. These men do not blame the new inhabitants for this change, they recognise that these things just happen. But they all agree, the atmosphere has gone. Bobby Reading says, “It’s progress. Not necessarily good progress, but it’s progress.”
Despite some homicidal tendencies, these men are the last of a dying race of loveable rogues. Cockney’s were historically praised because of their boundless cheeky charm and these men are no different. Bobby Reading agrees, “[The Cockney's] a rascal, and everyone loves a rascal.”
As long as that rascal keeps his fists to himself, I wholeheartedly agree.