Bronson (film)

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Bronson poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
Produced by Rupert Preston
Danny Hansford
Written by Brock Norman Brock
Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring Tom Hardy
Music by Johnny Jewel
Cinematography Larry Smith
Edited by Matthew Newman
Aramid Entertainment
Str8jacket Creations
EM Media
4DH Films
Perfume Films
Distributed by Vertigo Films (UK)
Magnet Releasing (US)
Release dates
Running time
92 minutes[1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $230,000
Box office $2.3 million[2]

Bronson is a 2008 British fictionalized biographical crime film co-written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn and starring Tom Hardy. The film follows the life of notorious prisoner Michael Gordon Peterson, who was renamed Charles Bronson by his fight promoter. Born into a respectable middle-class family, Peterson would nevertheless become one of the United Kingdom's most dangerous criminals, and is known for having spent almost his entire adult life in solitary confinement. Bronson is narrated with humour, blurring the line between comedy and horror.


The opening scenes introduce the audience to a man, Charles Bronson, which is later revealed to be Micheal Peterson’s alter ego, naked, behind bars, growling and vicious, and uncontrollable like some wild beast, and thus very dangerous.

He explains that he’s had a normal upbringing, and that, like most kids, he enjoyed a little trouble, which, unlike most kids, involves the beating of his school teacher with a chair. But, he goes on to explain, he wasn’t bad kid. And maybe he’s right, because the lioness isn’t acting out of some evil desire to see the gazelle in pain and then die when she pounces on it, she is only behaving within the norms of her animalistic instincts. There is no doubt that Micheal Peterson, or Charlie Bronson as he is later dubbed, is a criminal, stealing from the cash register of his first job and encountering the girl he will later propose to as he does so; he is not, however, wicked. He marries his sweetheart and goes on to rob a post office with a sawed-off shotgun before being sentenced to seven years of jail time. Little does Peterson know his sentence would grow to thirty four long years, thirty of which he would spend in solitary. His is the story of a life behind bards, stemming from the petty theft of a few dozen dollars.

For Peterson, prison is not the black hole one goes to rot in. It is “a useful place.” It is the hotel room where movie stars reside whilst working and traveling, and more importantly, basking in fame. Peterson’s “opportunity” to fame arises from disobeying the rules and fighting the guards, something we see Peterson doing right from the start as he refuses to sew with the other prisoners. The other prisoners chant his name as he is dragged down into solitary, fueling his desire for recognition. Inside those walls he becomes “Britain’s most violent prisoner,” singing surprisingly well in one of his many monologues throughout the film as the prison guards vow to make his existence utterly miserable.

Eventually Peterson is sent to a psychiatric hospital where he continues his fight for fame by brawling with those charged with the duty of controlling him. Put in solitary, Peterson devises a plan that will be his trademark: he holds a member of the staff hostage until the help is sent, and then he fights the help. This time however, he is sedated and kept sedated for a long time. But even drugged up, Peterson can channel his yearning for rebellion, making a shoddy run for his escape until he is calmly thwarted by a staffer standing near the exit. His plan evolves. He waits until the drugs wear off and suffocates another detainee with his socks. Much to his dismay, the man makes a full recovery, and so, instead of back into prison, he is sent to an Asylum for the criminally insane where he will spend 26 years of solidarity. It is a harsh punishment for someone who has yet to successfully kill anyone. “not one soul” he states.

Drastic situations call for drastic measures and after wreaking much havoc on the penal system Peterson becomes Britain’s most expensive prisoner. The solution? Certify him as sane and set him free. And so, after a brief reunion with his parents he sets off to see his uncle in Luton and make a name for himself by doing what he does best: fighting. His vision is supported by those around him. “ambition is the virtue of all great men,” his uncle tells him. He goes on to meet with an old prison mate and is given the name that will solidify his rule-breaking, fist fighting, and downright nasty alternate persona: Charles Bronson, after the famous American actor.

Bronson dives into the world of bare knuckle boxing in London’s infamous East End and seems to enjoy getting punches as much as delivering them. Not content with his meagre winnings, he ups the stakes by fighting two opponents at once, and wins. Banged up and in love, Bronson proposes to a woman he met at his uncle’s, but is told that she “Loves Brian, he has a motorbike.”[3] Desperate and confused, Bronson steals a thousand pound ring in the hopes that she will marry him and when he is once again rejected, he is brought back to jail.

After sixty nine days of freedom he once again finds himself behind steel bars and up to no good, kidnapping the librarian and fighting off his rescuers after having stripped naked and gotten his kidnapee to apply Vaseline to his back and buttocks, for, as the audience can only conquer, a few extra seconds of rebellious glory in the face of oppression. He is promptly warned by the Warden, sitting and gagged and strapped and bloody in a dark room, that he will die inside if his behavior does not improve.

The next few scenes, which make up the ending of the movie, offer the audience a lighter side of Bronson and the idea that all is not hopeless, because after all he has been through, the road to peace can be found with art. Phil Danielson watches as Bronson scans his drawings - depictions of his tumultuous life in prisons and asylums. He even goes as far as to admire his work and praise him to the Warden. Danielson believes that Bronson’s release is only a matter of time, that he is a great artist. In a cringe worthy reply, Bronson asks: “WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT WHAT I WANT?”

Bronson proceeds to hold his one devotee hostage, tied to a post with a painted face, while he, primordially naked and painted black, is interrupted by the Peterson inside him who calls out to the guards outside the door to break in and help their man, and save him from the beast who knows nothing but heartless aggression. And all of it he does, so he says, for fame.[4]



For the role, Hardy had telephone conversations with the real Charles Bronson, before meeting him in person. During their meetings, Bronson was so impressed by how Hardy had managed to build up his physique for the role and how good he was at imitating him that he shaved off his trademark moustache so that it could be made into a moustache prop for Hardy to wear in the film.[5] Filming was done in and around the St. Ann's, Sherwood, Worksop and Welbeck Abbey areas of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.[6] The post office shown at the beginning of the film is located in Lostwithiel, Cornwall.

Director Refn was not permitted to visit Bronson in prison because he is not from Britain. He was only allowed two phone calls with him.[citation needed]

Contrary to popular belief, Tom Hardy did not do 2,500 push-ups a day in preparation for the role of Bronson. The confusion and reason for this rumor is that Charlie Bronson himself was the one doing 2,500 push-ups a day around the time Hardy was meeting with him to gather information for the film script. Hardy himself denied this rumor during an interview in late 2009 with Michael Slenke from Interview Magazine:

SLENSKE: But you were doing some crazy training for that too, like 2500 push-ups a day?

HARDY: No, Charlie does 2500 push-ups a day, I didn't do that. I had to put on a lot of weight as quick as possible and I only had five weeks to do it, and a lot of that was fat. I ate everything. To be honest, I lost about 14 pounds of fat on this last film, and gained 28 pounds of muscle. I was heavier than I was on Bronson. [7]


Box office[edit]

Bronson opened in a single cinema in North America and made $10,940. The film ended up earning $104,979 in the U.S with the widest release being in 10 cinemas. Internationally it made $2,155,733 for a total of $2,260,712.[2]

Critical response[edit]

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a "Certified Fresh" score of 76% based on reviews from 79 critics, with an average rating of 6.6 out of 10 with the consensus "Undeniably gripping, Bronson forces the viewer to make some hard decisions about where the line between art and exploitation lies."[8] Metacritic gives the film a "generally favourable" average score of 71 out of 100 based on 22 reviews.[9]

Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four and praised the decision not to attempt to rationalise and explain Bronson's behaviour stating in his review, "I suppose, after all, Nicolas Winding Refn, the director and co-writer of "Bronson," was wise to leave out any sort of an explanation. Can you imagine how you'd cringe if the film ended in a flashback of little Mickey undergoing childhood trauma? There is some human behavior beyond our ability to comprehend. I was reading a theory the other day that a few people just happen to be pure evil. I'm afraid I believe it. They lack any conscience, any sense of pity or empathy for their victims. But Bronson is his own victim. How do you figure that?"[10]

Bronson was not initially allowed to view the film, but had said that if his mum liked it he was sure he would as well. According to Refn's DVD audio commentary, his mother said she loved it. On 15 November 2011, he was granted permission to view it. Describing it as "theatrical, creative, and brilliant", Bronson heaped praise upon his portrayer, Hardy, but disagreed on the implied distance between himself and his father and the portrayal of Paul Edmunds (portrayed in the film by Matt King as 'Paul Daniels') as "a bit of a ponce." Nevertheless, he challenged his own family's reaction to the portrayal of his Uncle Jack, stating that he "loved" it, as would Jack himself.[11] Bronson had been originally displeased with the choice of Hardy, but after their first physical meeting, Hardy assured him that he would "fix it."[12] As proven, Bronson's development in trust in Hardy's acting grew, even describing him as "Britain's No. 1 actor."[11]


  1. ^ "BRONSON (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 19 January 2009. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Bronson". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  3. ^ Refn, Nicolas Winding (2009-03-13), Bronson, retrieved 2016-11-10 
  4. ^ "An interview with Nicolas Winding Refn for Bronson (2008)". Retrieved 2016-11-10. 
  5. ^ "Charles Bronson: 'I chopped off my moustache and sent it to actor Tom Hardy'" Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  6. ^ "Film-makers invest millions in Notts". Retrieved 25 November 2011.
  7. ^ "Rough Character". Retrieved August 12, 2016.
  8. ^ Bronson at Rotten Tomatoes
  9. ^ Bronson at Metacritic
  10. ^ Roger Ebert (Oct 27, 2009) Reviews: Bronson
  11. ^ a b The Charlie Bronson Appeal Fund
  12. ^ "Tom Hardy: Becoming Bronson"

External links[edit]