Director: Xavier Gens, Corin Hardy and Gareth Evans
Script: Gareth Evans & Matt Flanners
Cast: Joe Cole, Aled Steffan, Darren Evans, Colm Meaney, Michelle Fairley, Brian Vernal, Sopė Dirisu, David Bradley, Jing Lusi
Running time: 537 minutes
Being a big fan of Gareth Evans earlier work, namely the likes of The Raid (2011), The Raid 2 (2014) and Merantau (2009), I was keen to watch his latest project, Gangs of London. Evans co-wrote and part-directed the nine-part series, which creates a Shakespearean-like drama centred around one very powerful criminal gang, the Wallaces.
When head of the Wallace household, Finn Wallace (Colm Meaney), is executed, while visiting his secret girlfriend/mistress, the delicate network of alliances holding London’s grubby underworld together looks set to implode in a wild cornucopia of greed and bloodshed. Finn’s heir, Sean (Cole), supported by his equally crazy mother, Marrian (Fairley), is obsessed with getting all-out revenge for his father’s murder, whatever the cost. Add into this heady mix a couple of under-cover cops and you have yourself a drama-filled and action-packed series.
Gangs of London begins as it means to go on with Sean dangling a traitor off one of his skyscrapers that’s under construction and then setting fire to him when he unsuccessfully pleads his innocence. In fact, there’s usually at least a couple stunning set-pieces per episode, including some excellent bone-crunching hand-to-hand fights and some high octane gun battles.
The series is nicely shot (with a kind of Seventies vibe to it, including the set-design) and Evans and his co-directors don’t play it safe when it comes to the choreography of some highly complex action sequences, including one of my favourites involving a fire axe and some plastic sheeting. There’s a little bit of shaky-cam shooting going on, but fortunately this is kept to a minimum so those of you with a propensity for motion sickness can breathe a sigh of relief. And there’s quite a bit of inventiveness going on with some nicely done quirky shots, including Dutch angles, cameras lying on their sides and even upside down, plus the usual array of tracking shots and zooms. There are also a couple of incidences of time-lapse photography, which always goes down well with me.
On the negative side, I thought there was too much use of some over-blown symbolism throughout the series, including the use of cracked mirrors to symbolise the corruption and split personalities of the individuals looking back at themselves in them. I also thought that the final episode was, in some ways, the weakest, so instead of ending with a bang, it all felt like a bit of an anti-climax. But that could be just me… Also, while the acting across the board was very convincing, I did think that Joe Cole was somewhat miscast as Sean and he never really convinced me of his uber bad-guy credentials, although the actor is clearly giving it his best shot. Sopė Dirisu, here playing Elliot Carter, is a revelation and I hope that we get to see a lot more of him on our screens over the coming years. And Colm Meany, as always, is good value as the over-the-top patriarch of the Wallace clan.
Gangs of London is certainly not the usual ‘thin on detail’ Brit gangster fluff that we saw made in large volumes following Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels back in the Nineties. Essentially it’s all about what happens when there’s a power vacuum in a big organisation that’s rife with corruption and greedy, narcissistic individuals.
This is certainly worth a look if you enjoy gangster films – especially the British variety – uber-violence, and dramas set within the scuzzier echelons of life.
Dazzler Media is distributing Gangs of London on DVD. There are some extras included, these being a series of short featurettes featuring behind-the-scenes footage, with mini sound-bite interviews with various directors, producers and cast members from the show. Basically, it’s EPK material, but on a bigger, more impressive scale. One featurette, for example, focuses on the action, another on the families at war within the series, and yet another looks at the ‘world-building’ that Evans and co have achieved. It’s all very watchable, if a little shallow and repetitive.