Performance is one of the key British films of the 1960s and James Fox's portrayal of a gangster, all hooded eyes and half-smiles, can be seen in inferior copies to this day.
He recently spoke to the Guardian about making the film:
Playing a gangster was quite a departure for me. I’d mostly played upper-class types. But I’d hung out with Donald Cammell, who wrote the screenplay and co-directed, and I think he’d seen a side of me that said: “James is a raving nutcase, so let’s steer him in the direction of the East End and see what happens.”
And it worked: I fell in love with my character, Chas Devlin, a south London gangster. I prepared for the role very seriously, even visiting Ronnie Kray in Brixton prison. The meeting was quite formal, though – what we really needed was to talk to people on the outside.
Much more useful, to perfect the manner and accent, were my visits to the Thomas A Becket pub on Old Kent Road with Johnny Shannon, who played gang boss Harry Flowers. John Bindon, who once dated Christine Keeler and had a role as a violent mobster, also had underworld connections.Sandy Lieberson, the film's producer, is also interviewed:
Donald Cammell originally envisaged Marlon Brando in the Chas Devlin part, but that was always a bit of a fantasy. We were pretty sure James Fox could pull it off, having seen him in films like The Servant.
Mick Jagger was on board from the start, and he brought to the role all the fame and notoriety that was attached to his own name at that time. We wanted to exploit his unusualness, the androgynous sexual aura that hung around him – something that’s harder to appreciate now that he’s a grandfather and such a figure of the establishment.The photograph above shows Fox and Jagger on set.
Now see Jagger sing Memo from Turner from the film.