LONDON-born actor, writer and producer Ray Purdis has defended his decision to make a movie about Paul Ferris, a one-time violent enforcer for Glasgow mob boss Arthur Thompson Sr.
Burdis, who produced The Kray Twins and wrote cult gangster movie Love, Honour, Obey, is the screenwriter and director of The Wee Man, the film released this week based on Ferris's biography, The Ferris Conspiracy.
Starring Martin Compston as a younger Ferris, the movie tells the story of how Ferris entered the city's crime underworld, working his way up the ranks as an associate of Thompson.
And the film, which depicts a level of violence as intense as anything ever seen on a British screen, takes a decidedly supportive view of the central character.
However Burdis, entirely aware of the controversy surrounding the project claims that the movie "had to be made".
"I felt the story had everything a film needed," he said of the tale of the convicted gun-runner who walked free from court twice after not-proven verdicts were delivered on murder charges.
The tone of the movie suggests Paul Ferris had no choice in becoming a gangster.
Asked whether this was a deliberate strategy to elicit sympathy for the character, Burdis said: "As a writer I could have made a documentary for the BBC on Paul Ferris, but as a filmmaker you have to create a world people can buy into.
"You need to have empathy for your lead character. You have to understand why he did what he did."
The writer – and Ferris himself – admitted that some of the devices used to create sympathy for Ferris have blurred the lines of reality. The pivotal moment in the movie, in which young Paul is drawn into violence, highlights the rape of his girlfriend by three men.
"For factual purposes the girl was actually a school friend, but I wasn't actually there to protect her at that time," says Ferris. "But there was an attempt by three individuals to attempt to rape her. And later I decided I would have to do something about this. It was a moral dilemma for me. Do I help a friend?
"But, yes, I was already involved in violence at this stage. It wasn't a catalyst."
While Paul Ferris was cleared of the murder of Arthur (Fat Boy) Thompson Jr, depicted as drug-crazed psycopath intent on taking over his father's crime empire in the film, paradoxically, The Wee Man's audience are led to believe Ferris himself could have carried out the shooting. "Ray has taken some artistic licence here," said Ferris.
Burdis concurred. "It was about keeping the audiences's attention and keeping the film moving forward," he says. "It's as simple as that."
Compston, 28, who is from Greenock, Inverclyde, said he was "absolutely delighted" to be cast as Ferris. "I grew up with the story of Ferris throughout my life. I read it all in the papers. I saw it all in the news. And I read his book [The Ferris Conspiracy]," he said.
"I remember years ago there was a picture of Paul and Robert Carlyle with the caption 'Robert Carlyle to play Paul Ferris' and I was absolutely gutted.
"Then that didn't happen – the film was in and out of production for years – and out of the blue I got a call one day saying 'do you fancy playing Paul Ferris?' So I was really chuffed."
The film, in cinemas on Friday, has come under fire from critics who claim it glamorises crime.
Scottish Labour justice spokesman Lewis Macdonald MSP said: "Glorifying crime or criminals simply adds insult to injury for the victims, and any film that sets out to glamorise the criminal and ignores his victims is starting from the wrong place.
"Those who have suffered as a result of this man's criminal activity will be made to go through it all again because of this film. Perhaps he will recognise that and actually hand over any income or benefits in kind to his victims and their families. It would not compensate them for their suffering, but it would at least show good intent."
A Strathclyde police spokeswoman rejected a claim by the filmmakers it had blocked filming saying any permission would be given through the local authority. She added: "We did not try to ban this and any suggestion that we did would be wholly incorrect."
A council spokesman said: "We didn't try to ban the film and any suggestion we did would be inaccurate.
"Glasgow Film Office, which is run by the council, was approached by the producer to establish which bodies should be contacted to enable filming to take place in locations across the city and asking for contact details for the police."
Biography of a criminal
PAUL Ferris was born in the Blackhill area of Glasgow in 1963 into a family steeped in violence.
As a child, Ferris was bullied for several years by members of a local criminal family, the Welshes, and his life of crime as a teenager began with a series of revenge knife attacks. After spending time in a Young Offenders Institution, Ferris became involved with Arthur Thompson’s crime empire, aged 19, as an enforcer collecting debts.
Ferris spent 18 months in jail for possession of offensive weapons but in 1992, defended by Donald Findlay, QC, was acquitted of the murder of Arthur Thompson Jr. In 1995, Ferris appeared in a television interview with John McVicar, in which he said: “If anyone was born into crime, it was me. Crime is in my blood.”
Ferris was arrested in London in 1997 following a two-year surveillance operation by MI5 and Special Branch and was sentenced to 10 years in jail for having illegal weapons.
While in prison, he co-wrote his biography The Ferris Conspiracy with Reg McKay and on release pledged to give up crime. He has written a series of books, appeared in TV documentaries and now works in the security business.
The Wee Man: it’s Tarantino without the style, fun and self-awareness
WELL, the affectionate title tells you where this film is going; and it’s not about to portray Paul Ferris as part of the cancer of criminality that pervades Glasgow life. It’s an attempt to maintain Ferris as the victim, a young man so demonised by violence he had to take to a world of stabbing, slashing and shooting to survive.
Young Paul (Daniel Kerr) is cute as a button, a victim of bullying, and as we watch how his dog is killed and (later) his girlfriend raped by thugs, the cute kid turns into a dark avenger, Blackhill’s answer to Bruce Wayne. But, instead of carting off evil to jail, Ferris beats and stabs his way to revenge.
Early on in the movie Ferris admits he enjoys violence, which opens the door of possibility in the mind of the audience this may be a movie that explains the madness we read about so often.
But it dissolves faster than Patrick Bergen’s attempt at an Arthur Thompson Scots accent. Indeed, the Dubliner sounds more Mrs Brown than Glasgow bad boy.
The Kray Twins worked because it revealed the world of insanity that was the brothers grim, and because ultimately they paid the price. Jimmy Boyle’s Sense of Freedom succeeded because the film highlighted the ravages of the prison service, and how redemption may be possible if miscreants re-routed.
But The Wee Man doesn’t do a great deal except lineate how a clutch of Glasgow hoods shot and stabbed each other as often as they drank booze and took coke. It doesn’t analyse the psychology of crime, the notion of redemption, crime and punishment. It’s Tarantino, but without the style, the fun, and self-awareness of the writer. And the timelines are often confusing.
Any pluses? Yes, Martin Compston and Laura McMonagle are excellent as Ferris and girlfriend Annmarie. And the movie may well be a hit in Glasgow, a city which loves to stare vicariously at its own underbelly.