The film begins with Bronson introducing himself to the camera, stating he always wanted to be famous. He cannot sing, he cannot act (a reference to Rocky, when Adrian asks why Rocky wanted to be a fighter he replies that he cant sing or act), and so he shows the calling he found: the film cuts to a naked Bronson fighting several prison guards in a cage. The film then presents several assorted points from his life, intercut with Bronson on stage before an audience in several stages of performance make-up, and speaking directly to camera while seemingly behind bars.
Michael Peterson is shown as a baby, and then as a young boy involved in fights with pupils and a teacher at school using a desk as a weapon. He had his first job at a chip shop, where he committed his first crime, stealing money from the cash register and giving some of the money and a kiss to a young woman who was working there. He then goes on to marry the woman, Irene, and has a baby with her.
Peterson goes to jail after robbing a post office and getting away with a small amount of cash. Peterson thrives in prison, comparing it to a hotel room, and every night he displays violent behaviour towards the guards, which causes the other inmates to treat him like a star. The authorities send him to a series of different prisons in hope that one of them will be able to handle him, but nothing seems to help. Eventually he is sent to Rampton Secure Hospital, where he is injected with high doses of sedative drugs every time he tries to start a fight. A man approaches Peterson while he is being subdued with drugs and seems to be sympathetic to Peterson. This soon changes as the man, John White, reveals that he is a paedophile and suggests that he and Peterson should rape a nine-year-old girl. The furious Peterson expresses aggressive hate towards the man, but is unable to do anything against him. In an attempt to gain notoriety again, he finally tries to strangle the paedophile after pretending to be calm for several days. Because of this he is sent to the high-security psychiatric hospital, Broadmoor, where he starts a large-scale riot. News footage from the actual event shows Peterson up on the roof, thus being branded Her Majestys most expensive prisoner but is released however and back into the general population.
While on parole and living with his uncle in Luton, he becomes involved in bareknuckle boxing and human baiting and changes his name to Charles Charlie Bronson, after the famous actor. This career ends quickly after he falls in love with a woman, steals an engagement ring, proposes to her and is arrested for robbery. He was out of prison for only 69 days.
Back in prison, he is once again involved in several fights with guards, thus extending his sentence. The character of his violent outbursts starts to become more sophisticated. At one event he holds a prison officer hostage before stripping naked and greasing himself up to fight riot officers. The governor tells him: If you continue this, you will die here. He becomes interested in art, which the prison officials think is a good way to develop his interacting skills with other human beings. Eventually this project gets out of hand when Bronson holds his art teacher hostage, ties him to a pole, puts an apple in his mouth, and paints the hostages face.
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