It became known as the Essex Boys Murders, and is one of the most notorious gangster murders in the UK. On a snowy December morning in 1995, the bodies of three drug dealers were discovered inside a Range Rover parked on a secluded, snow-covered farm track in the sleepy village of Rettendon.
The car’s occupants, Patrick Tate, Tony Tucker and Craig Rolfe, were shot in a triple murder that quickly became headlines.
More than 25 years later, there have been many massive dramas, true crime books, and documentaries about the massacre, or inspired by the back stories of those who died or their accomplices. Many would argue more than is necessary, but the audience is there.
The biggest event fueled franchise in Rettendon is Rise Of The Footsoldier, which began in 2007 and is now in the fifth film: Rise Of The Footsoldier Origins. This time around, the film tells Tucker’s original story, with Vinnie Jones joining the cast as the reformed bouncer-turned-author (and ex-star of Danny Dyer’s Deadliest of Men) Bernard Omoney, the man behind more than one person. of those books on the subject.
Drugs, violence, guns, hyper-ambiguous accents, and more four-letter words than the Glastonbury sets of Adele and Dave Grohl combined, the movies are the usual British gangster fare.
However, O’Mahoney, who says he’s never seen more of the first movie because of the way it’s lit up the lifestyle, says the pink lens has been somewhat removed for the latest shows.
“I’ve always kind of politely opposed them,” he says. “In the previous films—and I’m not just talking about the Rise of the Footsoldier movies, I’m talking about the genre—the bad guys almost always win, and their lifestyle is portrayed as very charming, with all those girls and cars. This depicts a success story; They are usually killed at the end but have a wonderful life along the way.”
In fact, that period of his life was “a terrible time where everyone was out to themselves,” says O’Mahoney, and “the drug world is a lot like Trainspotting—unnatural, dark, and nobody got any money.” But it is usually “people who have never lived in that environment” who produce and direct the films, portraying their idea of a lifestyle.
He says Origins, which has a new director, Nick Nevern, is different. It “throws a darker cloud” on the story.
“The reason I really like what Nick did with this movie is because…they had a charming life at first, but then the drugs started showing up and it went downhill pretty quickly and [how] They abandon their morals, they abandon each other, loyalty goes out the window, which, I think, has not been shown in these films before. And that is exactly what happened.”
O’Mahoney was ready to shoot several scenes, but he hadn’t seen the entire movie yet. So, while he was right, there is still an element of glitter, and it’s clear that audiences are supposed to root for the characters and their weird, gruesome style. With that said, number five shows a darker side, and would certainly be less “fun” than number four, Rise Of The Footsoldier: Marbella, who watched the gang on their fun in Spain.
While the 61-year-old initially said no to help researching the film, he says that Jones’ selection made him win the tour. “I thought this was their chance for revenge, they’d get Barry out of the EastEnders or something…” he laughs. “There are similarities between us in appearance. But they came back and said Vinnie Jones. I thought, well, at my age, I wouldn’t say no to that.”
O’Mahoney says Jones didn’t need much advice on how to play with him. “How can I politely describe this? I think he was a bit of a boy back in the day, so I guess he knows how it goes. I don’t think he needs to learn much, I think he kind of goes his way.”
Craig Fairbrass, who has played Patrick Tate throughout the franchise, has moved into territory perhaps critically acclaimed with recent films Muscle and Villain, and the upcoming Ire, when he gets a call about returning for fifth. He’s refreshingly honest about the Footsoldier films – “They’re not the cutest, they’re too violent, but the fans love them” – and about his role.
“I’ve never really treated myself as an actor. I’m from London, I have a certain size and a certain physique. It’s hard to get a job as an actor who does anything and I’ve always said there’s something worse than being the poster, that’s not a cast.” He originally took the opportunity to appear in the first movie, he says, because he read the script and “Pat Tate’s character jumped off the page—a big, terrible, strong guy who takes liberties.”
But why are people so fascinated by characters like this, and the stories surrounding these killings in particular? Ferbras says he’s asked himself the question several times over his years playing Tate. “This is not America, it is England, so three people were shot at point blank range, in Essex in an unknown place, there was an instant infatuation with it, this kind of mystery about who it was, and who did this how did it happen?
“I remember someone saying to me early on, ‘If they ever make a movie, you’d make a perfect Pat Tate.’ Then, 10 years later, I’m in the middle of a forest, soaked in water, drinking brandy, it’s really freezing and snowing, and we’re doing at the scene of the murder.”
Ferbras says some movie fans think he should be like his character, and he has to tell them the reality is “completely different”. You’re more likely to see the actor walking his tiny Maltese dog than throwing punches.
“I think there’s a huge, massive infatuation from everyone regarding anything that has to do with murder and crime, especially when it’s on your doorstep,” he says. “And because [the triple murder] It was so horrible you don’t get that every day… At the end of the day, they were gangsters, and they weren’t the nicest people.”
O’Mahoney can attest to that, including himself at the time. The movie portrays him as the flat-headed person, who can see when things are heading toward the ugly.
He says if there’s one thing he wants viewers to know, it’s “don’t do this at home” and that selling drugs “totally destroy families.” He worries that gang violence is “getting worse”, particularly in London, with “children killing other children, as you can see in the newspapers, and it all comes down to the magic of it all, and it’s not good”.
He’s not proud of his past and says he wrote the books he has to try to show the horrific facts, rather than make them happy.
“I am now 61 and when I look back at the things we were involved in… There are a lot of people in Essex who get up and look in the mirror every day and think of me for all the wrong reasons. He was, you know, with cuts or scars.
“Looking back, the things that we did and were involved in, it’s embarrassing. You know, how could you even think of doing [those things] To someone? Most of it was gratuitous. And it became terrible.
“I’m definitely not proud of that, definitely not. That’s why I love what Nick did with this movie. He put that side on, you know, he’s not charming. Far from it.”
Rise Of The Footsoldier Origins opens in cinemas from September 3rd