Fred: The Godfather of British Crime tells the true story of Fred ‘Freddie’ Foreman, a London born gangster, tried twice for murder and convicted for armed robbery and disposing of a body, in a story that features death, drugs, and famous gangsters.
One of the best parts of Fred: The Godfather of British Crime is the fact that it is told by Fred himself, the 85-year-old former gangster, having agreed to talk on camera about his crimes for the first time in close to 20 years.
Having Fred himself involved gives the documentary a level of depth that would otherwise be missing. There are recordings and photographs, interviews from people who knew him, but having Fred there means that we get to hear about the events of his life directly from him. We not only hear about what he did, but get a chance to understand why; and to see the effect some of his life’s decisions have had on him.
Fred, whilst fairly open for most of the film, will sometimes be difficult with the director, Paul Van Carter, when certain subjects are brought up. Subjects like murder. It’s interesting to see the older footage of Fred where he talks about having murdered people and hearing the extracts from his book where he does as well, to then see him try to work his way around the subject and not directly talk about those particular crimes.
Despite having left his life of crime behind him, Fred very much still seems to fear repercussions for his past deeds and is incredibly careful about what he says to make sure that he stays safe. One of the people interviewed described Fred talking to the documentary crew as like being interviewed by the police, editing what he says; and once you have that in mind you can really see how carefully he chooses his words and how his story can sometimes change.
But these insights into the mind of the man are some of the most interesting and set the film apart from biographical documentaries that don’t have direct involvement from the subject. We learn that Fred turned to a life of crime because he felt it was the only path open to him. We learn that crime didn’t bother him as much as the prospect of his family going without. Yes, he may have gone against the laws of society, but it’s clear that he lived by rules that he himself saw as more important; one of which was to provide for his wife and children no matter what.
Despite these reasons for his life of crime and his justifications for doing some truly terrible things, you have to bear in mind that Fred isn’t entirely innocent. That he has done bad things. I say this because even when talking to the camera, Fred is a very charming man and his age plays into this too. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking of Fred as a sweet old man.
Strangely enough, I came away from the film not sure what I felt about him. I wanted to dislike him for the life that he chose to lead, for the decisions that he made to be a criminal when he had opportunities to go straight; but when you see him living alone in a small flat, estranged from the family he claimed to always put first, with a few meagre possessions and his memories to keep him company, it’s hard not to feel bad for him. It’s a complex emotion, and one that speaks to how well put together the film is, being able to humanise a character that should be seen as evil.
Full of archive news footage, old photographs and family movies, and dozens of other contributors, Fred: The Godfather of British Crime delivers an in depth and detailed look into the life of an icon of British crime, one that goes beyond simple facts, to tell a very personal and at times emotional story.
Lionsgate UK presents Fred on Digital Download 28th May and DVD 4th June. Check out the trailer below: