What’s the story?
When it dropped last month, Gangs of London became Sky’s most successful launch since Chernobyl. Since then, it has become the channel’s most binged show of 2020. That’s a decent return, considering it’s surely also the most violent new series on any mainstream channel right now.
Gangs opens with the death of Finn Wallace (Colm Meaney), patriarch of the family that appears to run London’s criminal underworld. Having found a lucrative way to transform ill-gotten gains into respectable investments, the Wallaces are also players in the Square Mile. Finn’s killing by a no-mark traveller creates a major power vacuum.
Flying in the face of friendly advice about maintaining business as usual, Finn’s son Sean puts the criminal network on lockdown until he can find out who ordered his father’s killing and avenge it. There’s no shortage of suspects: Sean’s going to have to point the finger at – and thus further antagonise – Chinese, Kurdish, Pakistani and Albanian gangs. Not even his dad’s funeral is going to go down without a fight.
Who are the stars?
Joe Cole steps up from Peaky Blinders henchman to take a lead role as Sean Wallace, the raging, grief-stricken new head of the family. Sope Dirisu is Elliott Walsh, a new associate who’s keen to make an impression. Game of Thrones alumni Lucian Msamati and Michelle Fairley are also prominent. Paapa Essiedu (Press) is Sean’s rival on the inside, the son of Finn’s best friend whose talents have seen him earmarked for a leadership role of his own.
The real stars, however, are behind the camera. Director Gareth Evans and cinematographer Matt Flannery first joined forces on a series of Indonesian films – including The Raid – that brought the martial arts genre kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Since moving back to the UK from Indonesia, Evans has directed Apostle, an under-seen Netflix horror film in which Dan Stevens heads to a remote island to rescue his sister from an evil cult.
Now, the kicking and screaming continues in Gangs. Evans and Flannery’s background shines through in the fight scenes: each one has a special, unique rhythm that makes them both stylised and impactful. You feel the punches – and the darts and the meat cleavers – even as you appreciate the choreography.
Evans and Flannery wrote Gangs of London together, and Evans directs two of the nine episodes: the feature-length series opener and the remarkable fifth episode, in which the action switches from London to a much more rural setting for a showdown between Welsh travellers and some Scandinavian mercenaries. It’s an incredible, original bit of set-piece film-making with an atmosphere and energy all of its own.
Who’s it for?
These are gangs that are wealthy enough to survive (financially, at least) half a billion quid being stolen from them, but at no point is the viewer ever envious of them. The glamourisation of violence this is not.
For those of a nervous disposition, yes, there are some grisly deaths and a hard-to-watch torture scene, but there is also ground-breaking artistry in the fight scenes. This not only justifies the violence, but is the show’s reason for being – and your reason for watching. Just as they reinvigorated martial arts films a decade ago, Evans and Flannery have breathed fresh new life into the old world of London gangsters. Get involved.
Watch it now on Now TV
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