In cinemas 18th January
The Movie
  • Movie SynopsisOpen or Close

    1970’s Blackhill, Glasgow: 11-year-old Paul Ferris has learned quickly that life on the street is tough. Everyone knows their place. Poverty breeds corruption, crime, violence and bullying.

    Growing up immersed in a culture of crime, Ferris finally snaps when tormented one too many times by a vicious gang of bullying neighbourhood brothers who have made his childhood a living hell. Now in his late teens, despite his father’s advice and in the frustrated knowledge that the law enforcement and police do nothing to help, he decides to take on his tormentors alone and systematically wreak vengeance on them.

    Consequently attracting a street reputation, Ferris is sought out by the ‘Godfather’ of the Glaswegian gangster community, Arthur Thompson Snr. Again ignoring his father’s advice, he starts to work for the gangland boss throughout the '80s and '90s, rising through the ranks much to the irritation of Arthur’s son, 'Fat Boy' Thompson Jr.

    Rival mob honcho Tam McGraw recognises the weak link in the Godfather’s armour is his son’s ego, and in a bid to start a turf-war he fans the flames of Fat-Boy’s drug-fuelled paranoia against the gang’s rising star, Ferris. McGraw’s violence and clever manipulation of Fat Boy escalate with Paul caught in an increasing spiral of crime, while the police - in the pocket of McGraw - set out to take down Ferris.

    Having been set up by Fat Boy and McGraw, Ferris serves time in prison. Safely out of the way, Tam McGraw orders a hit on ‘Fat Boy’ Thompson pointing the finger towards Ferris. Distraught over his son’s death, Arthur ‘The Godfather’ Thompson declares open war on Ferris and his gang, leaving a wake of death and destruction the likes of which Glasgow has never seen before.

    Based on the life and memoirs of Paul Ferris, THE WEE MAN throws light on the world of corruption, crime, policing and prison services during Glasgow’s gang-war heyday at the end of the millennium.

  • The Man Behind THE WEE MANOpen or Close

    “There are three simple rules that will help you survive in this scary forest. One, always be wary of strangers. Two, be loyal son, especially to the people you love and trust. And three, be a lion, son.” Willie Ferris.

    THE WEE MAN follows the well documented life of reformed gangland figure Paul Ferris from his childhood in 1970's Glasgow and his rise through the city's murky underworld.

    Paul explains, “The film is drawn from numerous news items and true stories about my life pulled together with some creative flair by director Ray Burdis. He has had to cram forty years of my life together into a couple of hours and that's a difficult task. He has given the film a beginning, middle and an end and has had to use artistic license. He has combined fact and fiction to give the audience a thread to follow and he has done that very well.”

    Ray continues, “The main attraction for me in writing and directing THE WEE MAN was I read a book called The Ferris Conspiracy which was based on Paul's life and his upbringing in Glasgow. I found the book captivating. It's a riveting tale, full of integrity that pulls no punches; it wasn't glamourising the fact that Paul was a gangster, but telling us the story about why that happened to him, and I found that so moving. And of course I knew the film would be hugely controversial, and that made me all the more determined to come to the UK to make it.” It turned out to be a long journey from initial idea to the big screen, but it was a tale Ray was determined to tell.

    As he grew up, the young Paul Ferris had to witness drunken men fighting in the streets and a police force who dealt with violence with their own kind of violence. But Paul's father instilled a strong code in him: know nothing, say nothing, do nothing and you will survive. Never, ever, grass on anyone.

    Paul quickly came to realise that nobody gets to choose the environment in which they are born. His world was tough, and it got even tougher. Although he could fight his corner, he was a skinny kid and the older boys took to bullying him. Paul accepted this at first, but also clung onto the belief that his time would come. As he drifted into his teenage years he inevitably fell into a life of crime and violence. It seemed inescapable.

    Paul takes up the story, “If anyone was born into a world of crime, it was me.” He was continuously bullied from the age of eleven until he was about fifteen or sixteen, very formative years: “I ended up in a gang culture, carrying knives, drinking heavily. On one occasion an older member of the gang, an affiliate of this family, got hold of one of my friends and beat the life out of him and it got to the stage where I just had to intervene and strike back.” It marked the beginning of a downward spiral.

    “There are two forms of bullying, the physical and the name calling, neither of which you would wish on anybody. The psychological damage is every bit as irreparable as the physical damage. What I recognised from a very early age was an anger. An anger that got so bad that it was potentially evil. To an extent where my own personal views on it had been stamped on and bullied to such a great degree that I could do nothing physically to get back at these people. But in my mind I knew that one day I would stand up to them and that it was a way of life I didn't have to accept.”

    Paul stresses that from the outset they were determined that THE WEE MAN should not be another gangster movie, “We wanted to focus on the bullying and the repercussions of that. And we had a provisional agreement, if we can reach a wider audience, to show young impressionable kids growing up that if you want to be involved in a life of crime like this, there is no glamour in it.”

    Martin Compston explains his delight when offered the role of Paul Ferris in THE WEE MAN, “If you're a Scottish actor and you're not going to be William Wallace, you might as well be Paul Ferris. Growing up in the west coast of Scotland, Paul was sort of a bogey-man. Everyone claimed to have an uncle, a stepdad, a brother or some relation who had connections with him, just to get a bit of a hard-man reputation. I knew his life story inside out. I'd read the books before I was even approached about playing the part, and I'd seen the documentaries. I remember years ago reading that Robert Carlyle was going to play Paul Ferris, and I remember hoping that I might just get in there somewhere, as a young Paul or a hoodlum. So to be playing the man himself – well, I'm absolutely delighted.”

    Paul was impressed by Martin’s preparation for the role, “During the course of our conversations, it became clear that he had done a lot of research. He's read the books, and there were a load of different people pitching Martin as the man who could take on the role.”

    Martin reckons that coming from his hometown prepared him for the part: “Being from Greenock I had to be able to look after myself. It can be a lively place and you need to have your wits about you.”

    Martin also says that despite Paul’s history and his hard-man reputation they got along well, “He's got a chequered past, shall we say, and he'd be the first to admit that, but he was very kind to me. He's always been available for any questions and advice I might need, and he's also been quite astute and aware that it's not an impersonation. He told me to make the part my own. Basically I am playing a character. The film is very closely based on Paul's life and experiences, but obviously I got to have some leeway to go where I want with it, and he's been extremely supportive.”

    Martin adds, “I am under no illusions about Paul's past. The film doesn't exactly portray him in a nice light.” Nonetheless, he admits his surprise at the level of interest in the project, “I've never experienced hype or anticipation like it. I just hope that we do it justice and that we live up to people's expectations.”

    Ray concludes, “At the end of the day we are making a film based on historical characters and events. And yes, there are victims, and I'm aware of that, as they were part of Ferris' history. I've tried to be sensitive about the way I've depicted certain characters in the film where I feel family members could be hurt or upset by the way I portray them. I spent a lot of time ensuring it was historically accurate. It happened, and my role is to portray that sensibly. I have to be responsible and sensitive but in the end it's a film and a very good story.”

  • Shooting THE WEE MANOpen or Close

    Ultimately THE WEE MAN was shot in London due to issues securing permission to film in Ferris's home city. Paul admits that his relationship with Strathclyde Police has not been easy over the years, “The objections came as no surprise to be honest. There are elements of police corruption throughout the film and they had to be included. Ray Burdis was asked to send advance copies of the script to the Strathclyde Police, which he’s never had to do before in over forty years in the business. The police don't come out of the film smelling of roses, but then again neither do I. Carnaby filmed it in London and it worked out for the best as it snowed for the three weeks that we were due to film in Scotland!”

    Ray Burdis worked hard to ensure the story got told on the big screen and explains, “We had put a huge amount of work into prepping the film in Glasgow. We'd done the castings, the location hunting, booking studios and generally prepping the film to a point when all the crew were up and ready to go. And then I got this devastating letter from the Strathclyde Police saying we were not welcome to shoot this film in Glasgow because of the subject matter. All the work we had put into Glasgow had to be scrubbed and then we had to decide where on earth we were going to film it. We were under a lot of pressure so we went for 3 Mills Studios in London's East End, which had the added advantage of being surrounded by lots of streets with textures that remind you of Glasgow, so that helped an awful lot.”

    John Hannah plays Ferris's nemesis, Tam 'The Licensee' McGraw, and thinks the film didn't suffer as a result of the move to London for the majority of the filming, “This area in East London is going through the sort of revival and rebuilding that Glasgow went through in the late '70s and '80s, so the architecture up there has changed a lot. Plus we have the interiors of the studios, so it all looks pretty convincing and works well, I think.”

    John adds he enjoyed working with the largely Scottish cast when he filmed THE WEE MAN, “It's a gangster film but not in the mould of a British gangster film with cockneys. It's a period piece. I thought it was a good script, I hadn't done anything in Scotland for a long time. It was kind of cool to be back with a whole bunch of serious hard-core Jocks, y'know?”

    Paul visited the set in London twice, “I was there for the scene where Fat Boy Thompson is waving the hit-list about and I immediately felt they had absolutely nailed it as far as realism is concerned. Ray has captured 99.9% of the real life. It's a film that doesn't glorify crime or gangsters.”

    Paul admits he was saddened after watching scenes showing the death of his friends Joe 'Bananas' Hanlon and Bobby Glover. The depiction of one of Scotland's most infamous underworld hits “was numbing.” Joe, 23, and Bobby, 31, were shot dead as revenge for the 1991 murder of Arthur 'Fat Boy' Thompson Jr. The pair were accused of helping gun down Thompson outside his home in Glasgow's Provanmill Road and their bodies were found in a Ford Orion on the day of Junior's funeral.

    Stephen McCole plays Junior Thompson. Ray explains that it is a hugely pivotal role in the film and Stephen was spot-on for the part, “the guy's a genius. He's great to have on set.”

    Stephen commented, “When you are going to be playing someone who really lived, and who died in such a horrible way, you have to think very long and hard before you say yes to a job like that. Junior is in a very dark place, has a lot of issues and does a lot of bad things, and it's always interesting to play a character like that, especially the extreme stuff near the end of Junior's journey, when he really is out of control. The hit-list scene, that was a lot of fun to do – not least because after a couple of takes I found out that Paul was sitting on set watching the monitor, and that was... interesting!”

    Joining the cast are Patrick Bergin (PATRIOT GAMES) as Glasgow godfather Arthur Thompson with veteran actress Rita Tushingham (A TASTE OF HONEY) as his wife Rita. Denis Lawson (PERFECT SENSE) plays Ferris' bank-robber dad Willie, while Laura McMonagle (television’s LIP SERVICE) appears as Ferris' ex-girlfriend Anne Marie.

    Commenting on the casting prior to filming Paul said, “Patrick Bergin will be spot on to play old Arthur, who was considered the guy who solved problems. He had a quiet way about him but was also very sinister.”

    Ray was equally delighted that THE WEE MAN attracted such a talented cast to help bring the film to a wider audience. He explains, “I wanted to make this film so that I could put over a message to people that a life of crime is nothing like films like THE GODFATHER make it out to be.”

  • THE WEE MAN’s MessageOpen or Close

    Ferris - who now lies in Ayrshire with wife Carolyn, a policeman's daughter, and their children - insists that he has turned his back on guns and crime. “A lot of people are going to be surprised when they realise just how anti-crime this film is. You want a younger audience to watch it and say there's no glamour in this.”

    Paul continues, “The more you tell kids not to do things, the more they'll do them. But if you can demonstrate it in such a way through the movie, which Ray guaranteed me he was going to do, I wanted to be part of that. I want to be a part of changing people's lives for the good, not remembering them for the bad. After nine years of going straight, being free, writing books, being involved in documentaries, to be given an opportunity to address the issues that people want to sweep under the carpet: knife crime, violence, gang culture, that sort of thing, this is our chance to send out those messages. And I am very glad to be a part of it.”

    Paul concludes: “This isn't a gangster movie. It's not a film glorifying violence. If anything, it's a film for young people to watch and say 'I don't want to get involved in that life', because you either end up dead or end up spending the best part of your life in prison.”

    Asked by Martin Compston how it felt for Paul to watch himself being depicted on the big screen, he replied: “It is a bit weird, but I think you have really nailed the empathy part of the story and how it unfolds. I think THE WEE MAN is fantastic.”

    Martin admits to breathing a sigh of relief. He laughs, “I was chuffed to be playing Paul Ferris, but I'm hoping not be the one who messes up Paul Ferris' life story - I'd be a wanted man!”.