How 'Bronson' Subverts the Prison Film

Watch a video essay by Jessica McGoff about both Nicolas Winding Refn and Tom Hardy's breakout film.

Bronson film Clown
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Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video about the movie Bronson.


There is a delicious paradox about hypermasculinity. If you tilt your head the right way, macho trappings can, and often do, read as effeminate. 

A marvelous example of this is last year’s True History of the Kelly Gang, a re-telling of the life and crimes of Australia’s most famous outlaw, Ned Kelly. The film doesn’t shy away from the ambiguous flavor of Kelly’s real-life antics. These included, among other things, wearing dresses to frighten his opponents. The film leans further into Kelly’s ambiguous persona by intentionally blurring fact and fiction and introducing a gaze that frequently challenges its ostensibly hyper-masculine subject. 

If I were to place another film into this subversive subgenre it would, of course, be Bronson. Another biography of a campy criminal, Nicolas Winding Refn‘s film paints a portrait of Michael Peterson, a.k.a. Charles Bronson (as portrayed by Tom Hardy), Britain’s most famous, and most violent, prisoner.

As the video essay below explains, Bronson is a prison film that brazenly upends the conventions of its own genre. Even (and perhaps especially) behind bars, Bronson is always in control of his own story, interrupting the narrative with vignettes, asides, and even drag performances. Rather than a static victim of an oppressive system, Bronson offers a slippery and intangible protagonist, deviating from the macho code and embracing a queer gaze with disarming results. By unsettling all of its assumed trappings, the film, like its subject, becomes an outsider in its own genre. It’s a fitting ambiguity for a character at his freest behind bars.

Watch “Bronson: A Subversion of the Conventions of the Prison Film“:


Who made this?

Observant and whip-smart, the Glasgow-based Jessica McGoff is a worthy watch. She’s got a soothing Scottish accent and the uncanny ability to make heavy-duty film analysis look effortless. You can find McGoff’s work on her Vimeo account here. And you can follow her on Twitter here.

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(Senior contributor)

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