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Peter Morton

Peter Morton

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Though he may have enjoyed cultivating his image as a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks, British filmmaker Guy Ritchie's roots were in England's upper class. Nonetheless, Ritchie directed some of the most stylish caper comedies about blue-collar thugs and other lower-class misfits ever to emerge from his native land. Starting with "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (1999), the director arrived onto the filmmaking landscape with a unique twist on an old genre that employed flashy camera moves, punchy dialogue tinged with thick Cockney accents, and a seemingly endless series of double-crosses that landed a motley crew of East End thugs in more trouble than they ever wanted. Ritchie built on the attention he received from "Lock, Stock" with a second London crime saga, "Snatch" (2000), which some complained was nothing more than a variation on his previous film. Though he temporarily became a laughingstock - along with his pop megastar wife, Madonna - for their dismal remake "Swept Away" (2002), Ritchie nonetheless had tried something different. He soon reinvented himself as a capable director of mainstream Hollywood fare with hits like "Sherlock Holmes" (2009) and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."...

Though he may have enjoyed cultivating his image as a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks, British filmmaker Guy Ritchie's roots were in England's upper class. Nonetheless, Ritchie directed some of the most stylish caper comedies about blue-collar thugs and other lower-class misfits ever to emerge from his native land. Starting with "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (1999), the director arrived onto the filmmaking landscape with a unique twist on an old genre that employed flashy camera moves, punchy dialogue tinged with thick Cockney accents, and a seemingly endless series of double-crosses that landed a motley crew of East End thugs in more trouble than they ever wanted. Ritchie built on the attention he received from "Lock, Stock" with a second London crime saga, "Snatch" (2000), which some complained was nothing more than a variation on his previous film. Though he temporarily became a laughingstock - along with his pop megastar wife, Madonna - for their dismal remake "Swept Away" (2002), Ritchie nonetheless had tried something different. He soon reinvented himself as a capable director of mainstream Hollywood fare with hits like "Sherlock Holmes" (2009) and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." (2015).

Born on Sept. 10, 1968 in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England, Ritchie was initially raised by his father, John, an advertising executive responsible for the legendary Hamlet cigar commercials, and his mother, Amber, a model. When he was five, his parents divorced, leaving Ritchie to live with his mum, who married Sir Michael Leighton, the 11th heir of a 300-year-old barony. Though he spent some of his youth living at Leigton's 17th-century estate, Ritchie went in and out of some 10 odd boarding school, largely because of his suffering from severe dyslexia. By the time he was 15, Ritchie was expelled from his last school, Stanbridge Earls in Hampton, later claiming he was kicked out for doing drugs. His father disputed the account, saying his son was caught skipping class and sneaking girls into his room. In the end, all Ritchie could manage was a GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) in film studies.

After leaving school for good, he began a series of odd jobs until his father tapped his industry contacts to get him a job as a runner at a production in the Soho district of London. At 25, Ritchie quickly learned the ropes and began directing commercials and music videos to learn the filmmaking ropes. With the money he earned, Ritchie funded his first film, "The Hard Case" (1995), a 20-minute short about a group of blue-collar lads entering a high-stakes poker game. Also written by Ritchie, who took on the screenplay after failing to find another writer, "The Hard Case" demonstrated his fine-tuned ear for working class dialects and penchant for deftly crafted plots centered in the criminal world. The film attracted the attention of Trudie Styler, wife of music legend Sting, who agreed to finance his first feature length movie, "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" (1999), a variation on the criminal theme Ritchie utilized in his short.

With Styler serving as executive producer - and Sting making an appearance as a bar owner - Ritchie told the story of a group of likeable smalltime crooks who try to scam a local crime boss at poker, only to find themselves a half million pounds in the hole. Ritchie's first movie firmly established his knack for catchy dialogue, sharp camera angles and a punchy soundtrack that helped glamorize the tawdry world of East End criminals. Though a hit on the indie circuit, the film largely failed to catch on with American audiences, who had trouble parsing the characters' thick Cockney accents. Nonetheless, stateside critics stood up and took notice of Ritchie's obvious talents.

Around the time his first film was being released, Ritchie began dating pop superstar Madonna, whom he would go on to marry in December 2000 in an exclusive Scottish ceremony, after the couple had a son, Rocco, earlier that same year. The relationship between the hot young director and the larger-than-life icon attracted more than its share of tabloid attention, from profiling their supposed marital problems to their mutual commitment to the Jewish faith, Kabbalah. Meanwhile, Ritchie directed "Snatch" (2000), a return to the familiar territory of low-life thugs and working-class gangsters. Because of his newfound celebrity status, Ritchie managed to land topnotch talent like Benecio Del Toro, Dennis Farina and Brad Pitt to star. Once again using fast-paced action, witty dialogue and unique forms of violence, Ritchie scored his first genuine box office hit, though some critics complained about the lack of difference between "Snatch" and his previous effort.

With Ritchie married to Madonna, talk centered on when their inevitable onscreen collaboration would arrive. The celebrated couple started with baby steps, teaming up for the stylish but controversial music video for her hit song "What It Feels Like for a Girl," which MTV and many other stations refused to air because it depicted Madonna engaging in numerous forms of over-the-top violence, like tasering a man for his ATM money, blowing up a gas station and running someone down with a car. The two reteamed for the fast-paced short film "Star" (2001), which was part of an eight-episode series of high-profile vignettes for BMW. The married duo finally hit the big screen together the following year when Ritchie directed his wife in the romantic comedy "Swept Away" (2002), a remake of Lina Wertmuller's 1974 Italian film of the same title, in which Madonna plays a spoiled rich woman marooned on a deserted island with a spirited sailor (Adriano Gainnini). The movie was a miserable failure, landing on many reviewers' "worst films of all time" lists and earning five Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Actress, Worst Director and Worst Picture. It was hardly the kind of reception Ritchie was used to. In fact, his professional association with his wife would reduce his "cool" quotient drastically amongst the same cinephiles who had embraced his pre-"Swept Away" projects. Ritchie was unable to shake off the bad vibes after directing his next film, "Revolver" (2005), a return to gangland with its story of a cocky Vegas gambler. Because Ritchie layered the film with numerous hidden spiritual, mystical and psychological references, even star Jason Statham had to watch the film several times until he felt he finally got it.

For three years after "Revolver," Ritchie kept a lower profile, finding himself in the news more for his wife's goings-on than for his own accomplishments. Ritchie directed his third London gangster movie, "Rocknrolla" (2008). The film, which starred Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton and Tom Wilkinson, returned to the spirit of "Snatch" and "Lock, Stock" with its inventive take on real estate supplementing drugs as the trade of choice for London's criminal underworld. Meanwhile, his personal life took a plunge when his marriage to Madonna was dissolved in London by decree nisi and later ended in divorce in December 2008. Back to directing, Ritchie helmed the hit "Sherlock Holmes" (2009), a flashy and stylistic look at the famed brilliant detective (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his trusted ally, Dr. Watson (Jude Law), which was followed by the sequel "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" (2011). Ritchie returned four years later with "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." (2015), a film based on the hit 1960s TV spy series. Ritchie took on his next high-profile directing role with "Knights of the Round Table: King Arthur" (2016), starring Charlie Hunnam in the title role.

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