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You don't want to be trapped inside with me, sunshine. Inside, I'm somebody nobody wants to f-ck with, do you understand? I am Charlie Bronson: I am Britain's most violent prisoner.
~ Charles Bronson

Michael Peterson, better known as Charles Bronson, is the titular protagonist villain of the 2008 live-action film Bronson.

He is based on the real criminal, known as "Britain's Most Dangerous Prisoner", the real-life Charles Bronson is still in prison as of 2021 (aged 68), and reportedly appreciated his portrayal in the film.

He was portrayed by Tom Hardy, who also played Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis, Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, John Fitzgerald in The Revenant and Venom in Sony's Spider-Man Universe.


The film portrays Bronson's life as a play taking place inside Bronson's head, where he is able to entertain a captive audience in his theater of the mind. As he explains to the imaginary crowd, he always wanted to be famous - though being unable to sing or act, it was somewhat inevitable that he turned to crime in order to achieve recognition.

The future Charlie Bronson is born to a perfectly ordinary life in Luton, raised by two upstanding members of society in a loving household. However, as the movie displays, the young Michael Peterson just keeps getting into fights: not only does he beat his fellow students to a pulp, but he even goes so far as to sucker-punch one of his teachers and throw a desk at him - incidents that naturally result in Peterson being punished several times, to no avail. As an adult, Peterson begins his life of crime by stealing money from his workplace, sharing some of it with his girlfriend, Irene; this also results in his first visit from the police, and his first fist-fight with members of a law-enforcement agency. Some time after the sentence for this crime is over, Peterson marries Irene and has a child with her.

Eager for fame and fortune, Peterson acquires a sawn-off shotgun and robs the local post office. Not only does he fail to earn more than a handful of cash, but he gets arrested soon after and sentenced to seven years in jail. For good measure, Irene divorces him. However, Peterson quickly grows to enjoy prison life: he frequently compares his prison cell to a hotel room - indeed, he later enthusiastically discusses his favorite prisons, like Parkhurst and Wormwood Scrubs, as if they really were hotels.

He also builds his reputation by getting into fights with the guards, enjoying the thrill of combat and the celebrity status he earns from his fellow inmates as a result; however, it also results in him having several years added to his sentence. As the guards grow tired of trying to control Peterson, they transfer him to another prison with a higher security rating - only for the guards at that prison to transfer him to the next in line, and so on.

Eventually, Peterson is declared insane and is sent to Rampton Secure Hospital. Immediately starting fights with the orderlies and refusing to take his medication, he is forcibly sedated in order to keep him out of trouble. While Peterson is slumped in the common room, barely conscious, a fellow patient named John White approaches him: initially appearing sympathetic, White observes that Peterson is no more insane than him - only to then reveal himself as a convicted pedophile, and suggest that the two of them team up and rape a nine-year-old girl. Disgusted but too drugged-up to attack, Peterson immediately begins plotting.

Unable to stomach the suffocating lifestyle and mind-pummeling drug regimens in use at Rampton, Peterson longs for a way of returning to his "hotel room." Eventually, he decides to commit a crime that will hopefully get him sent back to a normal prison. Playing along with the regulations for a time, he lulls the orderlies into a false sense of security, and then attempts to strangle John White to death. Unfortunately, White survives, and Peterson is merely transferred to another mental hospital, that being Broadmoor Asylum For The Criminally Insane.

Even more dissatisfied with his new home, Peterson starts a large-scale riot, portrayed in the theater of the mind by actual news footage of the event, complete with close-up shots of Peterson sitting on the roof, gleefully posing for the cameras. Having managed to cost the system tens of millions of pounds in damages, he is quickly branded as "Her Majesty's Most Expensive Prisoner." Unable and unwilling to carry on with the expense of cleaning up after his constant temper tantrums, his jailers decide to get rid of Peterson by simply declaring him sane and releasing him from prison after over ten years behind bars.

Bronson fighting guards

While on parole, Peterson goes to live in Luton with his Uncle Jack; there, with the help of Jack's connections and an illegal promoter Peterson met in jail, he starts a career as a bare-knuckle boxer in underground matches. At the encouragement of his agent and promoter, he changes his name to Charles Bronson, after the American action movie star.

Though the newly-dubbed Bronson enjoys success in his new career, it doesn't last: having fallen in love with a woman named Alison, he is downcast when she starts getting interested in other men; in a desperate attempt to woo her, he steals an engagement ring from a jewelers' shop, only to get arrested and sent back to prison, having been free for a grand total of sixty-nine days.

Bronson quickly gets back into the habit of getting into fights with the guards, lengthening his sentence. Unfortunately, his temper is also becoming more and more volatile as time carries on: at one point, he goes so far as to hold the prison librarian hostage - despite having no idea what to demand in return for the librarian's safety; when the situation falls apart, Bronson simply strips naked, smears himself with butter, and assaults the guards when they arrive to rescue his hostage. While Bronson is recovering from the vicious beating he's been given, the prison warden harshly admonishes him, telling him that he will almost certainly die in prison if he carries on with his outbursts.

Surprisingly, Bronson seems to actually take this advice to heart, participating in rehabilitative programs from then on: he takes an interest in surrealist art and devotes himself to producing his own masterpieces. Though the prison officials approve and Bronson's art teacher praises his efforts, the project begins falling apart when the warden dismisses the artworks without even looking at them: genuinely upset by the rejection, Bronson throws a temper tantrum, taking his art teacher hostage and painting his face to resemble Salvador Dali.

Eventually, the warden sends in the guards once again, who detain Bronson by force of numbers. The film ends with Bronson secured in a coffin-like cage in a large dark room, badly beaten, chin torn, groaning.


From the moment he appears on screen, Bronson is rude, violent, impatient, belligerent, foul-tempered, egocentric, possessive, pugnacious, and quite amazingly foul-mouthed; needless to say, he seems to enjoy the thrill and adrenaline of fist fights, particularly with the prison guards. Arrogant and narcissistic, he will gladly do anything to achieve fame and shows no distinction between positive and negative attention - further fueling his life of crime.

Bronson is also notoriously impulsive: not only does he get himself sent back to prison in an ill-advised attempt to get his girlfriend's approval, but when he holds the prison librarian hostage later in the film, it quickly becomes clear that he has no idea how he could profit from this decision; when the warden asks him what he wants in return for the librarian's safe release, Bronson is left briefly speechless.

However, despite his many, many faults, Bronson does have a few redeeming qualities: he can be surprisingly amiable with family, friends, and even his enemies, at one point serving as a tea-boy for the prison guards without any signs of rebellion, remaining polite and friendly throughout. He never shows any inclination to hurt women, actively suppressing his temper when discussing Alison's new boyfriend. He also demonstrates a skill and appreciation for art, even opening a possibility for rehabilitation and even redemption.

Sadly, Bronson's temper and impulsiveness quickly undo these positive elements of his character.


My name is Charles Bronson... and all my life, I've wanted to be famous. I knew I was made for better things. I had a calling. I just didn't know what it was... Wasn't singing. Can't f-ckin' act. Kinda running out of choices really, aren't we?
~ Bronson's intro
Yeah, before I forget, I came to this world as Michael Peterson, but I'll go out with my fightin' name: Charlie Bronson.
~ Bronson, taking note of his original name
Now, I'm not gonna stand here, right, and tell you, yeah, that prison is not bad. No! No, that would be misrepresenting myself, and I think enough of that has been done already, DON'T YOU?! No. See, I didn't see a cell, cage, a box... to me, it was a hotel room. Don't get me wrong: for most people, prison is tough. A monotonous nightmare, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year of pure, unadulterated, living, breathing hell. But for me... prison was finally a place where I could sharpen my tools, hone my skills. It's like a battleground, innit? It was an opportunity, and a place where, soon, every native was gonna know my name...
~ Prison life, as Bronson saw it
Prison was... honestly? BRILLIANT! I liked it, personally - f-ck that, I loved it! It was exciting! It was on the edge! It was madness at it's very best!
~ Starting off a montage of prison escapade
When do I go back? (as nurse) Now, now, Mr Peterson, we aren't going to start up all that silliness again, are we? (as himself) Listen, nursie, all I wanna know is when my trial is and when I head back to the slammer, right? (as nurse) Wrong, Mr Peterson. Now, let's not play silly buggers, eh? I'll just have to pop you in the botty with one of my special potions, hmmm? (as himself) WHEN'S MY TRIAL?! (as nurse) Ah-ah-ah, tch-tch-tch... no. Mr White recovered, dear! There's no trial! Isn't that wonderful? However, you are being moved (as himself) Where? (as nurse) Yes, Mr Peterson! Broadmoor Asylum For The Criminally Insane! (as himself) I deserve to go to prison for what I did. I WANT MY HOTEL ROOM BACK! (as nurse) Well, I'm sure you'll find yourself some... solitary...
~ Bronson, in "What Happens When Murder Goes Wrong"
Twenty-six years. Twenty-six years of solitary, I've done, AND I AIN'T KILLED NO-ONE! I'm not joking. NOT A SOUL - EVER!'
~ Bronson, exploding with rage over his sentence


  • The real Charles Bronson was not initially allowed to view the film, but said if his mother liked it he is sure he would as well. According to Nicolas Winding Refn's commentary track on the DVD, his mother loved it. Furthermore, Bronson himself adored the film, praising both the direction and the acting, proclaiming Tom Hardy the only man who could ever have played him. He also shaved his mustache so Tom Hardy could wear it as a fake mustache.
  • Jason Statham was originally asked to play Charles Bronson but scheduling conflicts prevented him from appearing in this film.
  • Director Nicolas Winding Refn was not allowed to meet Charles Bronson in person since he is not from Britain, but was allowed to have two phone calls with him. Tom Hardy met with Bronson several times and the two became good friends. Bronson was impressed with how Hardy managed to get just as muscular as he was and how well he could mimic his own personality and voice.
  • As of 2014, the real Charles Bronson has changed his name to Charlie Salvador in honor of his favorite artist, Salvador Dali, and is still producing well-regarded works of art from prison. This appreciation for Dali's work is referenced prominently during Bronson's last act of hostage-taking in the film, in which he paints his art teacher's face with Dali's famous moustache.
  • Although the real Charles Bronson never killed anybody, he is serving life imprisonment.
  • Bronson is seen wearing sunglasses in the later scenes of the film; this isn't merely an accessory, but a medical requirement of the real Charles Bronson: after so many years spent in solitary confinement under poor lighting, his eyesight has suffered permanent damage, requiring shaded lenses just to read comfortably.