A director who had more of a critical and financial success with his first film than many of his colleagues have had over the course of their entire careers, Guy Ritchie became one of Britain's most talked-about directors on the strength of his 1998 debut, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. A highly stylized crime caper/black comedy set in London's East End, it inspired favorable comparisons to films ranging from Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs to the Hong Kong crime spectaculars of John Woo.
The film's decidedly irreverent sensibility was an appropriate one, given the background of its director. Born in England in 1968, Ritchie hails from a proudly working-class background and never attended film school. He regarded the work of most film school graduates as "unwatchable and boring" and the British film industry as suffering from a creative void. Feeling strongly compelled to fill this void, Ritchie thus embarked on Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. It was to be a long and difficult journey, as the director and his producer struggled for three years to find funding and repeatedly met with rejection from various members of the British film establishment. Finally, salvation came through in the form of PolyGram, and the film's eventual huge success all but ensured that Ritchie would never have to endure similar funding hardship again.
Ritchie followed up Lock, Stock with Snatch, another crime caper, this time set in London's Jewish diamond district. With a cast that featured many of the Lock, Stock players and American support from the likes of Brad Pitt and Benicio Del Toro, the 2000 feature was treated with significant anticipation on both sides of the Atlantic. Though many viewed Snatch as a simple carbon-copy of his previous success, the film nevertheless retained the giddy energy and humor that had made Lock, Stock so successful and found both Pitt and Del Toro at their quirky best.
Wed to Madonna in December of 2000, the duo would soon find themselves working together while collaborating on a remake of the 1974 Lina Wertmuller comedy Swept Away. Yet another in the long running series of cinematic mishaps for the sultry pop diva, Swept Away (2002) survived a mere fortnight in stateside theaters before being relegated a straight to video release in Ritchie's native England. In early August of 2000 the happy couple gave birth to their first child, Rocco. And though the couple would also adopt an infant boy named David some time later, in 2008 their brief yet passionate marriage came to an end.
Meanwhile, behind the camera, Ritchie remained busy as ever. And though his next two films, Revolver (2005) and RocknRolla (2008), failed to hit big at the box office, 2009 found the visionary director scoring the biggest hit of his career with Sherlock Holmes. A hyper-stylized take on the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes found Oscar-nominated actors Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law cast in the roles of Holmes and Dr. Watson respectively, and proved a big enough hit to warrant the disappointing sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows in 2011. Meanwhile, the prolific director branched out into the world of music by launching his own record label, dubbed Punchbowl Records, in 2010. His ventures outside of the film work kept him from directing another film until 2015's The Man From U.N.C.L.E.