Love, crimes and punishment in an eastend criminal’s biopic…
Musician, songwriter, record producer and singer, Phil Collins takes a leading part in the title role of Buster Edwards, a man who took part in the Great Train Robbery.
Buster – Trailer Phil Collins, Biene Maja
In 1982, I remember my dad called a collective noun of the multi-talented pop star, Phil Collins(es) “the wee daddies”. This was after he heard and saw the pop music video for Collins’ number 1 hit, You Can’t Hurry Love. The accompanying music video starred Phil Collins in not one but three roles with one role as the lead singer, and with two Collinses as backing singers. This song was a cover version of The Supremes’ hit from 1966. The pop video had those three “wee daddies” in sharp suits – with one in shades – and was also my kind of music.
Then just before the Kemp brothers, Gary and Martin – both musicians from 1980s boyband Spandau Ballet – lead acting film debuts came with The Krays (1990), Genesis drummer and sometime lead singer and then solo artist, Phil Collins returned to acting in a film leading role.
Collins had been an actor long before his musical career and had even appeared in the West End as the Artful Dodger in Oliver!. Looking at Collins’ acting career in film and TV, IMDb also lists Phil Collins’s “role” as a Vulgarian Child in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). His appearance in this film however is wildly debated in the Trivia column of this site.
Up until then, Collins also had roles in both film and television in uncredited and credited roles. These included a blink it miss it appearance in a Beatles movie, A Hard Day’s Night (1964) in a scene where he was part of the audience. He was also spotted in a guest star role in 1984 in my dad’s favourite TV Crime series, Miami Vice in his role as “Phil the Shill”, a British con man. David Green, the director saw Collins’ Miami Vice performance and this led to Collins casting as the title character in a British crime film, Buster (1988).
This review is on his lead and non-singing role in this film, although Collins does add to the soundtrack. The film tells of East End, train robber and petty thief, Buster Edwards. This biopic was surprisingly also billed as a romantic comedy and – more fittingly – drama and it has a who’s who of British character actors… and these included Anthony Quayle (for gravitas).
This review is my second post for RTT80s Podcasts, Realweegiemidget Posts, and my new crossover collaboration with Paul Stroessner from Return to the 80s. In this collaboration to quote my last post of this kind;
I am writing a monthly trailer review to complement some of this podcast’s new content for 2022 about 1980s films, TV and books. We then promote each other’s content online and add our links to each other’s work. But, tune in soon as I will be joining Paul on a future podcast… and more of that just before it happens.
Now onto this film…
About the Movie Plot…
This film is a magnificently recreated return to London in 1963 with the sounds, references and ambience of this time. The film soundtrack is akin to a 1960s time capsule for much of the film with only the instrumental track and new original songs written by Phil Collins.
However, despite these attributes, the biopic film relays more chilling events and tells about the Great Train Robbery of 1963 in great detail. These brutal and chilling scenes are blended simultaneously with the life of one of the train robbers, Buster Edwards. Events took place shortly after the Profumo scandal.
The opening credits are accompanied by the memorable 1960s soundtrack, and a burglar alarm is heard. The “lucky thief” – as his on-screen mother in law (Sheila Hancock) calls him before the robbery – Buster Edwards (Collins) is seen to “acquire” a new suit for a funeral after he breaks a shop window with a dustbin. Then Buster steals a mannequin wearing the suit of his choice from the shop. Police sirens are heard as he swaps clothes with this dummy in an alleyway.
At a funeral, he meets up with his old friends, Bruce Reynolds (Larry Lamb), Ronald Biggs (Ralph Brown), Harry (Michael Attwell)) and even a police inspector, Inspector Jack Mitchell (Martin Jarvis). All these men are paying their respects to the deceased. On his way home from the funeral, Buster acquires a few bouquets of flowers from the cemetery. These flowers are a present for his wife, June (Julie Walters). She thinks he won on the horses.
June wants the good things in life and a home of their own, especially as she’s now pregnant with their second child. Although Buster provides his wife with all her needs more unconventionally – as seen in a scene where he steals a bag full of much-needed items from a baby goods shop – she is keen for him to go straight and sees him as a loveable scoundrel. She wants to get money for her dream home the right way – borrowed from a back “with their permission” – and this couple is very much in love. June often defends her husband’s petty crimes when her mother disapproves of her son in law’s criminal actions.
Edwards and his literal partners in crime, the sinister ring leader Bruce and fellow accomplice, Harry (Michael Attwell) meet up in a swing park. The men plan to target the Royal Mail train to steal 1 million quid. They will have to join forces with another London gang headed by George (Chris Allison) to orchestrate this crime and with whom they will split the proceeds, and this event is planned with both gang members present.
On the night of the robbery – while Buster takes part in the proceedings – June has a miscarriage. She is supported through this difficult time by her mother. Both women are unaware of what Buster is doing that night. After the robbery – with over 3 million quids worth of money and goods – the two gangs share out the money, but they can’t decide on whether to stay in their farmhouse hideout place after they learn of the police investigations in the area.
The men have a change in their plan after their solicitor contact lets them down, as this contact doesn’t have the hideout cleaned and their fingerprints are found. Buster’s gang returns to London. Reynolds escapes to Mexico with his wife Franny (Stephanie Lawrence). The police begin arrests and find Harry and their accomplices.
The police are looking for Buster so he and his family join Bruce and Franny in Mexico a few months after the robbery. June, at first, enjoys “the good life” but in time she gets homesick and misses her mother and English life and culture. After the Edwards’ daughter, Nicky becomes seriously unwell and has a hospital stay, June returns back to England with her daughter.
Buster chooses to go home soon after the World Cup, as he misses his family, and there he lovingly reunites with June. However – on the way home – Buster fights with a man who recognises him and the man he assaulted calls the police…
About the Trailer and Behind the Scenes…
The trailer for this film starts with some thrilling dramatic music and chillingly recreated scenes of the Royal Mail train robbery of 1963. However this film – and the trailer – were criticised at the time for not showing a more violent and true account of the robbery. The film did not mention that a Royal Mail worker was violently assaulted during this crime.
Then the trailer switches gear and the narration is taken over by one member of the gang of robbers. He introduces himself as Buster Edwards. At the film’s release, Buster Edwards was then one of the then little known real-life characters who participated in this robbery. The romantic and comic development of his character in this film biopic was slammed for “romanticising” by critics. This may have led to this trailer explaining that in real life, Edwards was imprisoned in 1966 for fifteen years for his part in this robbery.
Scenes show the instigation of the robbery, the robbery itself and then the aftermath of the crime. These scenes are shown from both the viewpoint of the robbers and the police. These are intercut with scenes showing Buster’s part in this crime and his eventual arrest after he returns to England.
Concurrently there is more of Buster and his family’s more personal story is commented on in the film script. Buster is portrayed as a cheeky Eastend chappie and a petty thief who steals to provide for his family. He is more than happily married to June, who is clearly the love of his life. It’s suggested by the trailer this isn’t just a film about the robbery and at its heart, it’s also their love story. Just seeing more light-hearted and romantic scenes, you can understand the concerns of those critics with these scenes imbalanced with the more chilling events.
There are scenes showing Buster’s life on the run as after the robbery, the Edwards family join Bruce Reynolds and his wife, Franny in Mexico. At first, it seems the four adults are living the dream and even little Nicky settles into life in this new country. But June gets homesick for London and returns home with their daughter. Buster returns to London, to reunite with his wife and child, knowing this may mean his arrest.
As a kid, I loved the Buster movie soundtrack, which is crammed full of 1960s hits and Collins added three new tracks which include a cover of a sixties hit. This trailer plays a medley of these tracks – with all three tracks – while showing scenes from the film. These hits were amongst those Phil Collins hits I adored in the 80s, all of which inevitably came from movie soundtracks.
Up until this film, Phil Collins had performed romantic ballads for the soundtrack of two 1980s films. These musical moments were heard in the films Against All Odds (1984) and White Nights (1985). These tracks were Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) and his duet with Marilyn Martin named Separate Lives respectively.
Although I didn’t see both of those films back then, I had mentally added both to my to watch list after seeing their accompanying pop videos on Top of the Pops (1964-2006). Then decades later, I finally saw and loved the Cold War thriller, White Nights, and it is reviewed HERE. One day, I might just catch up with the Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward neo-noir, Against All Odds, so keep your eyes peeled.
Collins shows his dual talents as an actor and musical performer as he sings Two Hearts and a cover of the Mindbenders ballad, A Groovy Kind of Love. He also wrote the lyrics to the Four Tops song heard in this film, Loco in Acapulco and the instrumental tune, Big Noise. These he wrote with his writing partner, Lamont Dozier.
I urge you to investigate this soundtrack and in particular Collins’ pop videos for all his musical tracks. My favourite of these is the Two Hearts song and video. This song harks back to the You Can’t Hurry Love song as by coincidence, the lyrics in the latter song seem to foreshadow his Buster film role where “love’s a game of give and take”. The Two Hearts pop video also had a wee daddies theme, with five roles within a pop group all played by Collins as they perform their musical number – as a singer and musicians – on a 1960s inspired pop show presented by Tony Blackburn.
It’s also clear that this wonderfully catchy song had Collins and Dozier’s lyrics at their most arresting and engaging. This musical track won both an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original song and it tied as a Grammy Award winner.
Finally, I’d urge you to watch and hear the presence of Collins in this crime movie, be it by listening to the soundtrack, watching the film or tracking down those pop videos. As it really would be criminal to brush Phil Collins’ sterling contributions to this British film under the carpet…
CLICK HERE to listen to Return to the 80s podcast with their thoughts about this film…
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Tune in for our next collaboration on all things the 1980s…