by Matthew Martino

Jonathan Sothcott is the most prolific producer of British crime and gangster films with a CV that includes Vendetta, We Still Kill The Old Way and White Collar Hooligan. We caught up with him to talk about his latest geezer blockbuster Bonded by Blood 2 

Q. You’ve already made one Essex Boys film, Fall of the Essex Boys, back in 2012 – what’s the story behind that?

JS: At the time I was working with a very industrious producer called Simon Phillips. We had just enjoyed considerable success with The Rise & Fall of a White Collar Hooligan and were looking for another crime film vehicle for the leading man Nick Nevern. I suggested doing a low budget Essex Boys film – it’s a true story so in the public domain and year on year Rise of the Footsoldier was selling bundles of DVDs. I remember Simon wanting to shoot it modern day which thankfully we didn’t pursue. Anyway I had discovered this up and coming screenwriter Stephen Reynolds who I really rated. I got him to come up with a (fictionalized) take on it that Darren Niccols was actually an undercover cop all along (trivia fans please note that the film was released in Germany under the brilliant and alarmingly accurate title This Cop Is A Bastard). Paul Tanter, who had done White Collar Hooligan was back in the director’s chair and we took the package to Metrodome who funded it. Initially I asked Nick Nevern to play Pat Tate because he’s quite a big fellow but he wisely declined because he’s not a hulk like Craig Fairbrass or Tamer Hassan. Anyway, the film was released on DVD where it has been a huge hit in the UK selling well over 100,000 copies and leading Simon (without me) to make a sort of sequel called Essex Boys Retribution.

Q. Of the four main versions of the story it is the least well regarded, particularly in comparison to the ultra violent Rise of the Footsoldier and the stylish Bonded By Blood. How do you feel it stands up?

JS: For what it is it’s a solid little film. Remember the budget was, at best, 20% of that of either of the other two. Also Peter Barrett gets a lot of stick for his portrayal of Pat Tate (let’s be fair though – Craig Fairbrass was an almost impossible act to follow) but he saved our lives as the actor we had cast dropped out literally a day before filming to do Prometheus (from which he was, I believe, ultimately cut) and Pete came and did it at two minutes notice which I’m very grateful for. I think Steve did a good job on the script, Paul directed it with his usual efficiency, the music was good and it has some fine performances from Nick Nevern, Ewan Ross, Kierston Wareing and Kate Magowan. Is it a patch on the other two? Probably not.

Q.So after that, why go back and make another Essex Boys film? There have been quite a lot now – Essex Boys Retribution, Essex Boys Law of Survival etc.

JS: I had been talking to Bernard O’Mahoney for some years and I liked him. He’s a cheeky bugger but he makes me laugh and his books are very well written. And there’s no two ways about it he is the definitive authority on the Essex crime scene. He pushed me on his book Essex Boys The New Generation and I read it and I loved it but by this point I felt that making a film with ‘Essex Boys’ in the title was kind of flogging a dead horse (a flogging I had already contributed to). I wanted to do something different, something of quality. And nobody was going to believe it was that if it was called Essex Boys The Revenge or Curse Of The Essex Boys or whatever.

Q. So how did Bernard O’Mahoney’s book become Bonded By Blood 2?

Well I had this Eureka moment (it only happens rarely) – Terry Stone, who produced and starred in Bonded By Blood has been a friend of mine for a long time. We both started in the film business around the same time. I have made more films but his are better! I really admired Terry – he has a real get up and go tenacity and he won’t take no for an answer. Over the years he has become a close friend. Anyway we’re sat there having lunch one day and suddenly I said “can I call Essex Boys The New Generation ‘Bonded By Blood 2’ Terry?” He thought about it and I explained how we could use Johnny Palmiero (who played Bernie O’Mahoney in the first film) to tie them together. We thrashed out a deal and wrote down the terms on a napkin… and suddenly we were making a movie. I took it to Platform Entertainment (who had backed my last few films like We Still Kill The Old Way) who really liked it and things moved very quickly from there.

Q. Terry Stone has a role in the sequel but his character died in the first movie?

JS: He’s a ghost! I’m kidding: Terry reprises his role as Tony Tucker in a series of excellent flashbacks. It seemed crazy not to bring him back – he does that sort of role so well and he has a very real following within the genre. I have watched him grow and mature as an actor over the last ten years and he’s solid, you know – he delivers. He’s currently playing Jack Spot in a big budget true crime epic Once Upon A Time In London and I know he’s really pulling out all the stops on that one. So yes, I enjoy being in the Terry Stone business and I’m very glad he came back for the movie.

Q. Tell us about Bernard O’Mahoney

JS: Bernard (not his real name) was the head doorman at the infamous Raquel’s night club where the Essex Boys gang operated from. He turned his back on a life of crime and became one of the UK’s leading true crime authors. He’s a decent bloke, very witty and I like him. He’s forever trying to persuade me to make Northern crime films but I just can’t sell them. I like him a lot though and I’d like to film more of his work.

Q. The screenplay is by Simon Cluett who wrote Age of Kill and We Still Steal The Old Way which are always light hearted by comparison. What made you pick him?

JS: Simon (an Essex native) is one of my go-to script writers. Bonded By Blood 2 is definitely his best work to date as a screenwriter. He’s a classy writer and wrote a classy piece of drama. He’s a fan of these movies so knew what worked and didn’t work. Age of Kill was really hugely over ambitious on a limited budget and I think We Still Steal was too soft tonally but Simon’s not to blame for either of those things. He’s definitely a writer whose scripts I always look forward to reading and read very quickly (that is the sign of a great script – if I get up, make a cup of tea and check Twitter before Page 90 its lost me!).

Q. Greg Hall is a new director for you – what made him the right choice?

JS: Greg was introduced to me by Nick Nevern (all roads lead to bloody Nevern in this area) who is a bit of a film snob underneath that old hoody and doesn’t recommend people lightly. Greg came into my office and I was impressed with a film he had made called Dangerous Mind of a Hooligan (despite having no hooligans in it!). We talked about doing an urban crime film and that didn’t come together but he had an honesty and authenticity as a film-maker that I admired and so when Bonded came up I offered it to him. It was a great working relationship and I think he did a great job on the movie.

The cast of the film is a mix of your usual actors – Chris Ellison, Tony Denham, Dani Dyer etc – and some new faces – Sam Strike, Josh Myers, Naomi Willow and even Kirk Norcross. How different was casting this to your other movies?

JS: Well as Greg says “it is a Jonathan Sothcott film” haha but we definitely tried to populate the cast with new faces or elevate supporting actors to lead roles. A good example of this is George Russo, a fine naturalistic actor who had played a secondary part in my film Top Dog. George is very talented and very easy to work with so it was a no-brainer to offer him the lead. Sam Strike and Josh Myers I had wanted to work with for a while. It was fun casting this one – Greg really had a clear idea of what he wanted. He also workshopped the actors thoroughly, he was incredibly well prepared. I dropped Casey off at rehearsals one morning and he had them all being trees or something and I remember thinking he was nuts as I left. But whatever he did clearly worked because the performances are great.

Q. How did you get tabloid favourite Casey Batchelor in the movie?

JS: I knew Casey socially and liked her a lot. She’s funny and warm and great company. She’s drama school trained but was a dancer then a model so she had no significant film experience. I always say to people like that “I’ll get you in to audition, the rest is up to you.” So she came and screen tested for Greg and myself and the casting director Lee and she was great and got the part. Some of my colleagues were initially skeptical but once we started filming they all came to me one by one and said “you know what you were right, she’s great.” I was suitably smug! Her role’s a proper gritty bit of drama too, not all boobs and sexy – I think she’ll impress people.

Q. Did you film on location in Essex?

JS: We did indeed! At the time I lived in Loughton and we even filmed some of it in my house (never again). One day Casey said to me “my friend Vicky’s coming to visit can she come to your house while we film there?” I said “sure” and not long after a taxi pulled up and out bounced Vicky Pattison. Like a total wally I had no idea who she was but she has become one of my closest and most supportive friends. I adore that girl and that was my favourite part of the movie!

Q. The Film was shot a good two years ago – why has it taken so long to come out?

JS:As I said we made it for Platform Entertainment (previously Anchor Bay UK) in 2015 and they have been the subject of a protracted acquisition by another distribution company, Kaleidoscope, which was finally concluded earlier this year. Thankfully the film’s a period piece, being set in the 90s, so it hasn’t dated!

Q. Why do you think there is a continuing fascination with the Essex Boys rangerover murders?

JS: Two things – one, like Jack the Ripper, it remains unsolved. The British public love a true crime conspiracy. I must have met 50 people who have told me who “really” killed the Essex Boys and none of them are right! The other thing, much like a smaller scale version of The Krays, is that the movies keep the legend alive. Before the Kemp film the shadow cast by Krays twins was getting shorter and shorter every year – they were two old men in prison. The movie didn’t just depict their legend it really created it. Footsoldier and Bonded By Blood made the Essex Boys murders a recurring fixture of British gangland myth.
I’ll tell you one funny (sort of) thing – when I was promoting Fall of the Essex Boys, I did an interview with the BBC in workhouse lane, where the three guys were shot in the rangerover. It was a genuinely spooky and unsettling experience. I needed a guiness after that!

Q. Will you make a Bonded by Blood 3 if this one’s successful?

JS:Welllllllll…. Never say never. I might help facilitate it but I don’t think I’m in any hurry to revisit that particular milieu. I feel like I’ve made my Essex Boys films now – that’s not to say there won’t be more, in fact there’s another Footsoldier movie on the way, but I just don’t know where you take it after this. Essex Boys Zombies? Essex Boys Vs The Krays? The Lone RangeRover? If someone could come up with a brilliant (true) story we could legitimately link to the other other two then I would talk to Terry about it. But I’m very happy to be going out on a high after two.

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