Ray Winstone

Ray Winstone: Britain's cuddliest hard man

Whisper it, but Ray Winstone may be mellowing with age. The man who made his name playing hard nuts and hoodlums is telling Reader’s Digest about his new Sky1 drama Moonfleet, an adaptation of John Meade Falkner’s classic Victorian tale of smuggling and skulduggery. Ray plays Elzevir Block, the smuggler-in-chief who teams up with the young orphan John Trenchard (Aneurin Barnard). Yet far from describing it as a tale of swordplay and derring-do, Ray is keen to see Moonfleet as a parable about parenting.

“Before you start talking about the smuggling bit and all that, it’s more like the story of a man who’s lost a son. He finds another kid who could be his son, and tries to guide him through life and morals. It’s a story of every age, in a way. It’s that thing about the journey of a young man finding adulthood and what the important things are.”

Ray is 56, and still cuts a formidable figure—all eyes are drawn to him as he holds forth in the bar of the Dorchester Hotel in London’s Mayfair, looking almost rakish in a sharp three-piece suit. Yet, while he may remain “the Daddy”, he’s also a real daddy to three daughters, two of them grown up. Several times he describes himself as “an old fart”, and age has obviously led to some reflection.

“I suppose I’m getting older. I’ve done all them films about society like Nil By Mouth—which I’m happy to do again. But you get to a certain age, and you start looking back on your life and what growing up’s all about. And it’s great when you can make something and feel all ages can sit down and watch it. Because I guess a film like [pitch-dark 1999 family drama] The War Zone is not exactly a Saturday-night-with-a-pizza type of thing.”

This presumably explains more recent choices such as Moonfleet, the BBC’s Great Expectations and Martin Scorsese’s fantasy film Hugo. Ray has, he says, moved from being a firebrand—the man who tore up the screen in films such as Alan Clarke’s brutal borstal drama Scum—to a slightly bemused parent, an outsider looking in on the youth of today.

"It was the Sixties. Yeah, there were gangs, but it was your street against my street, you’d have a punch-up and that was it. Very rarely was someone stabbed or shot."

“I don’t understand the younger generation. I try to. Ben [Drew, his co-star on last year’s The Sweeney, also known as the rapper Plan B] was a great one to work with because he’ll talk about what’s happening on a council estate. I mean I’m quite aware of, you know, drugs and people getting killed and shot and all this b******s going on, but my answer to that is it’s all f******g wrong.

“I’ve lived in those places in the past [he grew up on an estate in Plaistow, east London] but it was a different time. It was the Sixties. Yeah, there were gangs, but it was your street against my street, you’d have a punch-up and that was it. Very rarely was someone stabbed or shot. Maybe we just didn’t hear about it, but today it seems like every time you turn on the news, it’s happened. Places where my grandfather might have lived are now no-go areas.”

So what’s Ray’s solution?

“The first thing I always say is, ‘Well, go in with the troops and sort them out!’ But that’s just being ignorant. You need to listen to someone who actually knows it.”

Ray likes to act the blunderbuss—but as soon as he suggests sending in the army, he admits that he knows the violence and disaffection among young people are actually to do with social breakdown and “the number of people who feel lost”.

“There’s nothing to do, and even kids who’ve got an education and great credentials, when they come out of university, they can’t get a job. It must be soul-destroying. Maybe there is more pressure on kids than there was when I was young.”

He looks back on his childhood as a time of tough living, but of wholesome values. “My mum made dinners for the old lady who lived over the road—she was on her own. Everyone on that street knew everyone because they lived on top of one another, and everyone would watch everyone else’s kids when they were playing out. Then they built high-rise flats, people moved to the suburbs and families grew apart.”

Family, as you might have guessed, is important to Ray. He’s been married to his wife Elaine for 34 years. And while he laughs and says that his daughters, Lois, 31, and Jaime, 28, (both actresses) and Ellie, 12, are “quite strong-willed, you know?”, they are close to him. One even calls him in the middle of our interview.

Winstone family values centre on a single rule. On Sundays, they all get together for dinner at his and Elaine’s house in Essex. For Christmas, it will be the same drill, but with more people and a grander spread. “On Christmas Eve, I’ll wrap the turkey in bacon and I’ll do all me buttering and dress it all and put it on a nice slow cook overnight. In the morning, I’ll get up, take the bacon off—it’s got a turkey flavour—crisp it up and make bacon sandwiches for everyone. The music goes on, they all come downstairs and we open the presents. Dinner is around two o’clock, we have all the family round and we drink and we have a little party. But we always stop for the Queen’s Speech.”

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