British Lobster in the Spanish Sun

British Lobster in the Spanish Sun February 13, 2024

A postcard (c. 1930-c.1945), perhaps of the kind Don Logan might send his boss back in London.
Source: Picryl
Public Domain

I’ve lounged the beaches from San Juan to Cinque Terre, but I prefer a brisk. day and a thick jacket. No sunblock for me. Outside my window at this moment, snow is stacked a half-foot high. Soon my dogs will beg to go out (bellies full of snow as they are. At least they had fun). My Slavic skin isn’t made for intense heat and direct exposure; my complexion (and my mood) fare better with early nights, deep darkness, and warm hearths (not that, properly speaking, I’ve ever had a “hearth”).

And yet, there is a kind of person—a very pale, very (ethnically) European being—who loves nothing more than baking like honey-soaked country ham, skin flaking off onto chlorinated poolsides like dandruff in the showers at the YMCA. For whatever reason, I associate this particular iteration of the death drive with Brits and Australians, as if they’d do anything, absolutely anything, to have Gordon Ramsay make them into a succulent Beef Wellington.

Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast (2000) is a movie about such sun-drenched people. I hear tell they descend on (and sometimes move to) Spain with great regularity, littering the beaches of Ibiza and Mallorca (heck, probably Minorca too) as seagulls to half-eaten burgers on a boardwalk. All the power to them. My ancestors come from the mountains, not the rain-soaked forests of merry Sherwood (or whatever).

A retired London gangster, Gary “Gal” Dove (Ray Winstone) counts himself among the blessed—he has retired to a stylish mansion in the Spanish countryside. His life is quiet but not lonely. Far from it. His wife Dee Dee (Amanda Redman), a retired porn actress, and friends Aitch (Cavan Kendall) and Jackie (Julianne White) keep him company, sharing the pool, sipping cocktails, and broiling under the relentless gaze of Sol Invictus. He’s even got a local pool boy on staff. Gal is happy, gleeful even. He’s done his time; he can waste away in Margaritaville. Until, that is, Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) shows up to bring him in on one more job.

Kingsley’s performance makes Sexy Beast. Don Logan is so indefatigably annoying he could break Larry David. From one breath to the next, he snaps from direct, unfeeling request (“will you do it, Gal?”) to screeching like a banshee in MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. Kingsley’s performance is disquieting because it suggests (even if you reassure yourself: “it’s just a movie; it’s just a movie”) that someone so exhausting could possibly exist.

What’s worse, he’s unpredictable. Shaving in the middle of the night, he calmly finishes trimming his goatee and, without missing a beat, rushes to and jumps on top of a sleeping Gal, pummeling him with shaving cream smeared fists. It’s remarkable that the lobster-skinned street-pensioner manages to say “no” for so long.

Then the ole British irony comes in. Gal and his friends deal with Don at the cost of the retired gangster having to make his return to London to do the job. What I can’t shake, however, is the British-ness of Gal, lying there in the sun at the film’s opening and closing. That’s his paradise, burning under the Iberian orb as if in hell. Decades and decades of jobs, working his way up through the ranks, breaking into vaults and breaking guys’ legs, all to need a bath in Vaseline every night.

That’s not for me. But you know what? If my other option was to stay in London and deal with Don Logan regularly, I’d flee to Spain too. A rocky outcropping at the end of the earth beats a psychopath with a goatee any day.

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