A modern-day ‘Peaky Blinders’? ‘The Raid’ meets ‘Top Boy’? ‘The Godfather’ with a Travelcard? Er, ‘Game of Zones’? Alongside its many other qualities, HBO and Sky Atlantic’s new and highly bingeable ‘Gangs of London’ is one of those crime shows that invites myriad comparisons. Arguably, the show it most closely resembles is fellow Sky Atlantic crime epic, ‘Gomorrah’. Like that vivid, violent and seriously underrated four-season saga, it’s full of bursts of Grand Guignol bloodshed, complex gangland politics and interesting ideas about how a lucrative underworld co-exists with the environment around it.
The action sequences are adrenalised and regularly bonkers, but the brawn never outweighs the brains. With all nine episodes landing today, here are five very good reasons to get stuck straight in.
1. The action is spectacular...
‘Gangs of London’ opens with gangland tyro Sean Wallace (Joe Cole from ‘A Prayer Before Dawn’ and ‘Peaky Blinders’) silhouetted at night at the top of a half-completed tower. Below him is a dangling man. At his feet, a can of petrol. The shot is straight out of ‘The Dark Knight’, but you can’t see Batman putting his name to what follows. It’s a killer series opening and a portent to what’s to come: brutal, lurid violence. Lots of it. Put it this way: at one point, someone gets rotisseried.
If you’ve seen their previous work, ‘The Raid’ and its sequel ‘The Raid 2: Berandal’, you’ll know that ‘Gangs of London’ co-creators Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery (also the cinematographer) have found new and seriously adrenalising ways to capture action sequences. The first episode features a bonkers pub brawl that makes use of every improvised weapon available in a West End drinker, including an ashtray and a dart (it’s over before people start lobbing kegs of IPA at each other, but only just). Episode two features a lorry ambush filmed partly upside down. Episode four has a gun battle in a neon-lit alley involving more expended ammo than a number of small wars. Hold on to your sofa.
2. ...but it doesn’t overshadow the story
As in all the best American TV (‘The Wire’, ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘The Sopranos’ etc), the action is in service to the story – and the story is gripping. London crime kingpin Finn Wallace (Colm Meaney) is shot dead and his son and heir, Sean, wants revenge. He’s calling a halt on all illegal shenanigans until the killer – or killers – is found. To quote the Ben Stiller ‘Starsky & Hutch’, crime is just going to have to call in sick.
But that deceptively simple set-up quickly gives way to all manner of juicy complexities. The wrinkles come thick, fast and heavily armed, as the Wallaces’ ethnically diverse client syndicates – Kurdish, Albanian, Chinese, Pakistani and Traveller – deny responsibility and grouse about lost revenues. The bodies soon start to pile up. Into this ‘Godfather’-esque scenario comes ‘washed-up old squaddie’ Elliot Finch (Sope Dirisu), burrowing his way into the Wallaces’ loyalties. If ‘Gangs of London’ was a relationship status it would be ‘it’s complicated’.
3. It’s a razor-sharp look at modern London – and London looks razor-sharp in it
From that skyscraper opening to the Wallaces’ swanky high-rise business HQ, the city’s loftiest perches and rooftops feature prominently. So, too, do innocent-looking shopfronts in Green Lanes, the backstreets of Docklands and Chinatown’s alleys. From property deals to scooter-borne jewellery raids, it’s set in a relatable London – albeit one with a slight comic-book tinge – toing and froing across class and cultural lines with a nice sense of specificity.
4. Its gangsters are a richly drawn bunch
Free of stereotypical wrong’uns straight out of Guy Ritchie central casting or east fackin’ Lah’n heavies, the gangs in ‘Gangs of London’ are a nuanced, intriguing lot. Look out for Finn Wallace’s brooding widow Marian (Michelle Fairley, aka Catelyn Stark in ‘Game of Thrones’) and Ed Dumani (Lucian Msamati, another ‘Game of Thrones’ alumnus), the loyal partner in crime Finn first bonded with during the bleak ‘no blacks, no Irish’ days of ’70s Britain. Then there’s Sean, the Prince Hal of all this, sparing no-one’s feelings in his quest for payback. (Sample nicety to a rival gangster at his dad’s funeral? ‘Grab a hymn book, take a seat and pay your fucking respects’.)
5. It’s seriously moreish
Like the industrial quantities of heroin that fuel its characters’ criminal enterprises, ‘Gangs of London’ has an addictive quality. Happily, Sky is releasing all nine episodes in one go, so you don’t need to wait a week for the next burst of mayhem.
‘Gangs of London’ is on Sky now. Head to our sponsored Time In page for much more on the show.
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