The Rise of the Footsoldier


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This film covers the events which led up to a particularly blood-soaked triple gangland slaying in the UK in December, 1995. The subsequent investigation resulted in the arrest and conviction of two mobsters and the disappearance of another into the witness protection program. This same territory had already been covered by another British film, The Essex Boys, which came out in 2000, but Rise of the Footsoldier is grittier and more authentic than that earlier film for two crucial reasons:

1) Essex Boys was a roman a clef which gave it the freedom to embellish the story with fictional details. Rise of the Footsoldier uses the characters' real names and is based on the autobiographical account of Carlton Leach, a close associate of the three slain men.

2) The director of Footsoldier tries to recreate the authentic atmosphere of the times and the mindset of the main characters. It take more of a documentary-style approach than Essex Boys, and portrays a substantial amount of angry violence in graphic detail.

Footsoldier tells its version of the story within a broad long-term framework, establishing the background facts by following Carlton Leach's rise in the gangland hierarchy. Leach begins as a violent football hooligan with a particularly well developed body and an especially tough demeanor. He starts to earn some money as a club doorman, and his success as hired muscle leads to other opportunities in the "security" business, most of which involve protecting guys who have to deal with unsavory characters in risky and illegal situations. The security duties place Leach squarely in the middle of gangland, and it's only a matter of time before he has his own "firm" and is engineering his own deals.

The film paints a loathsome picture of that life. The central characters are uneducated and violent men to begin with, and their violence gets out of control when they start to build up muscle with anabolic steroids, which fuels "roid rages." Their violence, in turn, provokes others to violence against them. The people they deal with and the people they oppose, ranging from the "Turkish Mafia" to fellow British yobs, are as crazed and cruel as they. The brutality in their lives is not confined to others in their criminal life, but often spills over into those "straightheads" with whom they have contact, and sometimes even into innocent bystanders. One of the Essex boys has a particularly uneasy relationship with those in the service industry, and occasionally beats a waiter or delivery boy to the edge of death for some real or imagined failure to perform his duties properly.

When those three men were murdered, the police worked on establishing motive by creating a list of those who wanted them dead. It boiled down to "pretty much everyone who had ever met them except Carlton Leach."

The critics dealt harshly with this film. Both The Guardian and BBC assigned their lowest possible score, but I don't consider that fair, at least as I understand the purpose of a film review. In my view, a low score should say, "I found this to be a poor movie," but they used those scores to say, "I found this an unpleasant experience." That's very different. The Guardian and BBC reviewers were both repulsed by the graphic violence and constantly ugly tone of the film. When the main characters are not beating someone senseless, they seem about ready to do so, and the audience is soon channeled into a mind-set which is prepared for mayhem to erupt at any moment, even when the characters seem in tranquil situations. When an Essex Boy is on screen, any minor slight can provoke volcanic anger. Does that make it an absolutely unpleasant film to watch? Yes. But that does NOT make it a bad film. In fact, the reactions of those critics provide some evidence that the film is very effective at doing what it sets out to do, which is to demonstrate what it was like to be a fly on the wall when the Essex Boys conducted their business. It limns brutal thugs who took a lot of drugs, lived above the law, had sex with lots of hookers, and administered a lot of ugly beatings to one another and others, with and without justification. With hard-driving music, fast-paced editing, authentic acting and realistic gore, the film re-creates the lives of those brutes in a manner which is not normally seen in British films, and which was probably too accurate and explicit for some of the more sensitive critics.

Don't get me wrong. I didn't enjoy the film any more than the BBC reviewer did. An ugly and mean-spirited film like this is just not the sort of thing I would watch for my own enjoyment, and the film did occasionally cross the line between portraying violence and indulging in it. For example, the film shows the famous shotgun murders three times. One of those recreates the gory events as they were portrayed in the trial and conviction of the accused murderers, but since the convicted men have to this day denied any involvement, and since everyone in Essex hated the victims, there was no shortage of alternate possibilities. The film shows two of those other alternatives in equally grisly detail. That represents a lot of shotgun-splattered skulls in a short time, but I would defend this portrayal as completely consistent with the film's narrative. Since the film is based on Leach's first-person account and is voiced over by his first person narrative, and since the slaying was the only key event of which he had no first-hand experience, the only proper way to render this event within his POV was to show those alternatives which he considered possible.

Yes, the film is ugly, and the working class accents are very difficult to understand, but I did watch it all the way through without any thought of the fast-forward button, and when it was over I felt that I had experienced the events and emotions of lives which I could not have imagined without the movie's help. Of course, I also felt that I needed a shower and some fresh air, but I'm quite sure that's exactly what the director intended.



Available only in Region 2.

 Amazon UK



1 Guardian (of 5 stars)
1 BBC  (of 5 stars)
14 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)


6.7 IMDB summary (of 10)





Box Office Mojo. It opened in the UK on the September 7-9 weekend. Appearing on about 1/3 as many screens as the full distribution films, it opened in 14th place. The UK does not feature mandatory two-week runs, so 80 of the 138 theaters dropped it, and it tumbled by 86% in week two. It finished with about $350,000.

There has been no North American run.






  • Emily Clark (aka "Clarke") - extended scene with great breast exposure in bright light and brief full frontal nudity.
  • Nicola Paige - breasts as a horny barmaid.
  • Coralie Rose - breasts and full body nudity from the side during a sex scene
  • Unknown - naked (but only her breasts are really exposed) while ordering a pizza
  • Julia Fygnarek and Charlene Bryan - topless as two hookers.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


A pretty good gangster film which creates a distinctive mythos for the people of a specific time and place. Very graphic violence.