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Bronson is a brilliantly bloody journey into the criminal mind, starring Tom Hardy as Britain’s most violent prisoner, Michael Gordon Peterson (aka Charles Bronson).

Originally jailed for seven years in 1974 for armed robbery, Bronson (Peterson’s bare-knuckle boxing name) ended up serving the next 14 years in solitary confinement in a slew of prisons, including the infamous Broadmoor, due to his repeated attacks on staff and inmates. Following his release, he spent only 68 days free before he was locked up again. This film follows that period.

Like Russell Crowe and Eric Bana, whose brilliant turns as violent hard men in Romper Stomper and Chopper saw their stars rise, Bronson is all Hardy’s. And after seeing this film, the young Brit actor certainly deserves a gong or two. Taking his acting cues from the likes of Steven Berkoff and his ilk, Hardy’s Bronson is a viciously amoral showman who kicks, punches, spits and growls his way through his violent life in a bid to achieve notoriety.

Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, renowned for pulling no punches when it comes to sweaty, man-on-man violence, having helmed the edgy Pusher trilogy and the Viking epic Valhalla Rising, eschews traditional storytelling for a more experimental style.

This approach works – in an arthouse kind of way: Peterson’s alter ego gets a theatre to perform in; Broadmoor inmates dance to the Pet Shop Boys as though in an experimental music video; and there’s a nod to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange in the use of classical fanfare to accompany the scenes where Bronson clashes with his jail keepers.

The first half of the movie sees Bronson brawling his way from schoolyard to prison, but when he is released the film takes a breath, allowing the film’s other characters (especially Peep Show’s Matt King as effete boxing promoter Paul Daniels and veteran actor Hugh Ross as the debonair Uncle Jack) to get a chance to shine in their own right.

Gloriously over-the-top, Bronson effectively mixes violence and comedy to narrate the hard man’s tale, making this prison biopic a certified cult film in the making.

The Vertigo Films DVD release includes an illuminating short about Hardy’s intense training sessions for the film, a ‘Making Of’ featurette, and the speech by the real Charles Bronson.

Released 6 July