Brutal, stylish, and pacey, Gangs of London gives the classic British gangland thriller an action-oriented (and wince-inducing) update.
This review of Gangs of London is spoiler-free.
Sky Atlantic’s new 9-part crime drama Gangs of London pulls no punches, cares little for treading new ground, and isn’t particularly bothered what you think of it – things that are all, at least in my book, points in its favor. The handsome production – co-produced by Sky and HBO Cinemax – is certainly a looker, but it’s a bit more than that too; a contemporary British gangster story that exceeds the usual low-budget straight-to-DVD trappings and boasts some style and gloss that is mostly put to fantastic use in a range of impeccably choreographed and wincingly brutal fight scenes.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since Gangs of London comes courtesy of Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery; both worked on the stellar Indonesian actioners The Raid and The Raid 2: Berandal and the 2018 Netflix horror Apostle. That’s quite a history of stylish bloodletting and lends itself well to this descent into a criminal underworld kept in loose order by the Wallace family, whose patriarch, Finn (Colm Meaney), is promptly assassinated, sending the whole fragile ecosystem spiraling into chaos.
Inter-gang politics are complicated, especially since everyone suspects everyone else of the killing and Finn’s loose cannon son, Sean (Joe Cole, who was perfect in the exquisite Thai boxing drama A Prayer Before Dawn), is hell-bent on revenge by any means necessary – much to the annoyance of Finn’s long-time friend and associate, Ed (Lucien Msamati), who’s trying to keep everything together.
This is, mostly, standard genre stuff. Where Gangs of London separates itself is in white-knuckle action set-pieces that make enthusiastic use of various nearby implements to consistently harrowing effect; each episode has at least one or two of these, and they’re a delight for the strong-stomached. While at times all this can veer ever-so-slightly towards sadistic territory, the extremity is largely the point. The show’s no-holds-barred tone is only enhanced by these sequences, not undermined by them, and they’re quite unlike any previous pub brawls you’ve seen on-screen.
With its wild pace, enthusiasm for carnage, and promise of deeper character developments and plot turns, Gangs of London is British telly of an extremely distinguished vintage, and the kind of home-grown escapism very much at a premium right now. If you’re of a mind for something along these lines, you’ll find plenty of it here – perhaps even more than you were expecting.
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