Sweeney 2 (1978)

This second big screen outing for the maverick cops of London's Flying Squad sees Detective Inspector Jack Regan (John Thaw) and his sidekick Sergeant George Carter (Dennis Waterman) investigate a series of armed robberies by a ruthless gang of professional criminals. 

The gang is so ruthless, in fact, that they leave a trail of dead bodies in their wake every time they go out on a job. They will even kill one of their own gang if he is injured and has to be left behind. Regan and Carter's investigation leads them to believe that the criminals are actually expats living somewhere in Europe, who fly in and out of the country for each new job. 

In order to catch the robbers, Regan has to seek information from his old boss, a now disgraced and imprisoned crooked copper, Jupp (Denholm Elliot), while avoiding the disapproval of his new chief Dilke (Nigel Hawthorne). 

As part of their investigation, Regan and Carter eventually fly out to Malta in search of the thieves. Along the way, they also have to deal with a bomb plot in a top London hotel, while Regan becomes involved with a woman who works on the hotel's switchboard.

John Thaw as Regan in Sweeney 2
Bloody hell: Jack Regan (John Thaw) after a shoot out

The TV series The Sweeney had been a big popular success on its original run on ITV from 1975 to 1978. It made enough of an impact for a film spin-off, Sweeney!, to be produced in 1976. That film saw Regan and Carter become involved in a plot involving blackmail, phoney police officers and an attempt to rig the vote at an international oil ministers' conference. The TV series returned for its fourth and final series in 1978, and the same year saw the release of this second and last cinema outing for the original crew. 

Sweeney 2 was directed by one of the series' regular directors Tom Clegg, who had also directed Regan, the TV film that originally spawned the series. It was written by Troy Kennedy Martin, writer of the classic British crime caper The Italian Job (1969) and cult war movie Kelly's Heroes (1970). Troy Kennedy Martin was also the brother of the writer of Regan, Ian Kennedy Martin. The two men took turns creating iconic British police series in the 1960s and 1970s, with Troy creating Z Cars in the '60s and Ian's drama Regan leading to The Sweeney a decade later.

With its storyline about a gang of bank robbers, the premise of Sweeney 2 does feel more like something that might have appeared in the original TV series than the conspiracy thriller plot of the first film. A few supporting actors reappear from the TV series, including John Alkin and James Warrior as fellow policemen, although Regan now has a new boss, played by a pre-Yes Minister Nigel Hawthorne, and a corrupt former one, played by Denholm Elliott. 

The latter is no doubt inspired by Kenneth Drury, the commander of the real Flying Squad who was one of a number of senior police officers imprisoned on corruption charges in 1977. The Flying Squad's seriously tainted reputation was a little awkward for a series based on celebrating the Squad as a band of flawed heroes, but Sweeney 2 does at least acknowledge this issue. As Regan tells Jupp's lawyer "Your client is so bent that it's been impossible to hang his picture straight on the office wall for the past 12 months", a joke that later has a visual callback when Regan is shown trying to do just that in flashback.

Detectives in a scene from Sweeney 2
Regan and colleague at a crime scene

Sweeney 2's main problem is a lack of action and a thin and mostly uninteresting plot. In fact, apart from a decent car stunt where the escaping robbers drive through a shop window and out onto the street below, the film lacks action set pieces and misses most of the obvious opportunities for excitement. This is in marked contrast not only to the TV series, but also to the first feature film spin-off, Sweeney!, from two years before.

One of the robbers' early escapes in Sweeney 2 is especially dramatic, as they leave a trail of dead bodies behind them, including one of their own number. But the film doesn't even show this sequence, only the aftermath. Sweeney 2 in fact has rather less action in an hour and three quarters than a decent episode of the TV series would manage in about half that time.

When Regan suspects that the gang pulling off the string of armed robberies are based in Malta, he and Carter take a trip to the island. This leads to some curious and almost totally irrelevant scenes, as the two men are shown attempting to chat up a couple of air hostesses on the flight, just about get through Maltese customs, and then wander around Malta looking like a couple of off-duty coppers straight from London. They fail in their attempt to interview the suspects they have come to see, before being rounded up and taken away by the local police and forced to return home. Did someone in the crew just fancy a trip to Malta, or were John Thaw and Dennis Waterman promised a little Mediterranean holiday if they signed on for a second film?

The expat crooks angle is reminiscent of the "Costa del Crime", when British criminals would flee to Spain in the late seventies and early eighties, as there was no extradition treaty between the two countries at this time. The unusual element in the film is that the criminals are returning to England to commit more crimes before flying back home again.

Unlike the anger and political disaffection of the first film, Sweeney 2 captures more of the sense of hopelessness and malaise in Britain in the mid-to-late 1970s. The indignation of this film's predecessor has given way to a feeling of resignation. As one of the criminals explains, they have left for Malta because Britain is now "finished". Things, it seems, are now so bad that even the criminals are taking what they can and getting out. 

Georgina Hale in Sweeney 2
Georgina Hale as Regan's latest romantic target

The film does give the audience a chance to observe Regan's seduction technique on the switchboard operator (played by Ken Russell regular Georgina Hale) and his and Carter's gauche attempts to chat up two air hostesses - which are enough to make you glad that you aren't a woman living in the 1970s.

The bomb maker sequence at the hotel is a curious subplot that goes nowhere. A mysterious foreigner staying at the hotel is intercepted on the telephone talking to someone in French about a bomb. But is he building a bomb or defusing it? Various policemen, marksmen, security services personnel and army bomb disposal officers congregate on the hotel. They adjourn to the bar, where it's decided that the suspect is defusing a bomb instead of building it. They all then enjoy drinks on the house while Carter is sent up to the suspect's room to investigate.

While Clint Eastwood's Inspector Harry Callaghan got to pretend to be an airline pilot to resolve a hijacking in Magnum Force in 1973, Carter gets the less glamorous disguise of a waiter, which seems about right. This subplot is a dead end though, and we never quite find out who the man was or why he had a bomb that needed defusing. This adds to the nagging feeling that the film's script is composed of left-over ideas from the TV series, rather than representing a coherent story that deserved to be told.

One more amusing idea is that Regan gets assigned a new recruit as his driver. While Dirty Harry's male chauvinist cop had to team up with a female detective in The Enforcer two years earlier, Jack Regan gets something even more horrifying than a woman - a vegetarian! Regan's new colleague is a well-spoken young officer, not long out of police training school in Hendon. The disdainful expression on Regan's face is priceless when he opens his car's glove compartment and finds that his grub now consists of a couple of apples and a carrot.

Dennis Waterman in the bomb scene from Sweeney 2
Carter (Dennis Waterman, left) helps to disable a bomb

With its more down-to-earth premise, the storyline of Sweeney 2 is much more in the vein of the TV series that inspired it than the first Sweeney film. But it's also much more flabby and listless, with not enough drive or narrative momentum to sustain it. There's also some padding, extraneous elements that feel like under-developed ideas, and some unexplained bits that suggest a scene or two was cut.

In particular, there is a Nazi memorabilia collector who has apparently lost a valuable item and who appears early on, only to then be completely forgotten about. Much is also made of the fact that the robbers only steal the pound sterling equivalent of $100,000, based on the exchange rate on the day of the robberies. But the reasons for this are never explained. Similarly, no real explanation is given for the bomb being in the hotel or who the man defusing it was either.

While the first big screen Sweeney effort is the better film, Sweeney 2 is arguably the better Sweeney film - or at least more representative of the original series. Unfortunately, the creative tank in this particular Ford Granada is running a bit low and while the film does feel more like the TV series, it's like the TV series with most of the exciting bits cut out. Sweeney 2 also doesn't expand on the TV series in the way that a film version should. Instead, it simply adds irrelevant minor subplots and bits of padding without driving its story forward, and fails to take advantage of the increased budget by wasting it on an irrelevant Maltese interlude.

John Thaw and Dennis Waterman, though, are still good value as these characters - bantering, gawping at birds and blagging free drinks - and the film captures their relationship considerably better than the first film did. Sweeney 2 doesn't quite make a convincing case for itself as a stand alone feature film, but there's still just about enough to enjoy here for devotees of the TV series and, as with the first film, the visual upgrade from the TV version's 16 mm film is a bonus.  

Sweeney 2

Year: 1978
Genre: Crime Thriller
Country: UK
Director: Tom Clegg

Cast  John Thaw (Jack Regan), Dennis Waterman (George Carter), Denholm Elliott (Jupp), Ken Hutchison (Hill), Anna Gael (Mrs Hill), Barry Stanton (Big John), John Flanagan (Willard), David Casey (Goodyear), Derrick O'Connor (Llewellyn), John Alkin (DS Daniels), James Warrior (Jellyneck), Guy Standeven (Logan, bank manager), Brian Gwaspari (White), Frederick Treves (McKyle), Johnny Shannon (Harry), Clifford Kershaw (Gloria's father), Toby Salaman (Doctor), Nigel Hawthorne (Dilke), Lewis Fiander (Gorran), Anna Nygh (Shirley Hicks), Michael J. Jackson (Soames), Lynn Dearth (Mrs White), Fiona Mollison (Mrs Haughton), Sarah Atkinson (Mrs Mead), John Lyons (Mead), Brian Hall (Haughton), Matthew Scurfield (Jefferson), Gareth Milne (Bank teller), Sebastian Witkin (Skateboarder), Hubert Rees (Bank manager), George Innes (Pete Beale), Roddy McMillan (Collie), Michael O'Hagan (Doyle), Arthur Cox (Detective), Georgina Hale (Switchboard girl), Patrick Malahide (Conway), Max Mason (SPG Constable), Frank Coda (Commissionaire), Yvon Doval (Mr Mahmoun), James McManus (Barman), Eamonn Jones (Barman), John Vine (Police constable), David Gillies (Police constable), Seretta Wilson (Girl), George Mikell (Superintendent), Marc Zuber (Andy), Joe Zammit-Cardona (Customs official), Leon Lissek (Alexandros), Marilyn Finlay (Schoolteacher), Seymour Matthews (Harry - fingerprint man), Stefan Gryff (Nino), Michael Scholes (Boy in bed), Danny Rae (Taxi driver), Rosario Serrano (Mrs Konstantikis), Alan Ross (Fiddler), Diana Weston (Air hostess)

Screenplay Troy Kennedy Martin, based on the TV series The Sweeney created by Ian Kennedy Martin  Producer Ted Childs  Cinematography Dusty Miller  Art director William Alexander  Editor Chris Burt  Music Tony Hatch  Special effects Arthur Beavis

Running time 104 mins  Colour Technicolor

Production company Euston Films  Distributor EMI Film Distributors (UK)

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  1. I enjoyed your write-up, although I don't think I'll be seeking this one out! I had to laugh, though, at Jack Regan's driver being (gasp!) a vegetarian!

    1. I know - the horror! He probably didn't even know they existed.

  2. Brilliant film wished it was like this in London now.


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