Once Upon a Time in Londongrad review – a slow but intriguing investigation of Russian murders

By Nicole Ackman
Published: November 16, 2022 (Last updated: November 23, 2022)
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This six-part series isn’t always as exciting as you might expect, being rather slow and dense, but it brings about interesting questions about the power of Russian money in the UK and whether or not you believe in their conclusions about the murders.

We review the Peacock documentary series Once Upon a Time in Londongrad, which was released on November 15th, 2022.

Buzzfeed might not be the first site that comes to mind when you think about investigative journalism. That’s something that Once Upon a Time in Londongrad openly acknowledges, as it lays out the work that the UK Buzzfeed investigative journalism team did to link fourteen murders in the UK to Russian billionaires. The series shockingly eschews sensationalism for a hard look at how Russian money has invaded London and (maybe) managed to avoid legal prosecution as they have taken part in targeted killings.

The six-part series, now streaming on Peacock, follows Heidi Blake and her team, whose work was previously published in the 2019 book From Russia with Blood: The Kremlin’s Ruthless Assassination Program and Vladimir Putin’s Secret War on the West. It examines how Putin has exerted influence as far abroad as London and how he might be linked to a series of 14 murders between 2003 and 2016.

While focusing on the apparent suicide of property developer Scot Young, the series delves into all of these murders – some more suspicious than others. While the death in a helicopter crash or a train accident could easily be overlooked, the healthy 40-some-year-old collapsing while jogging and the man who supposedly put himself into a zipped, padlocked duffel bag are harder to attribute to suicide or natural causes.

The series is somewhat slow-moving at the beginning, taking its time to start making connections and introducing other murders. The first episode is dedicated to examining Scot Young’s death, by falling from a window in his girlfriend’s London flat, before stepping back and giving the broader context of the Russian billionaires in London in the second episode. In fact, the series is less sensationalized than one would expect from a topic like this, perhaps to prove the Buzzfeed journalists’ dedication to serious investigative reporting.

Many of the interviews in the documentary are with Buzzfeed journalists, though Young’s ex-wife Michelle also makes many appearances. Hearing about the experiences of Blake and Tom Warren while working on the story is actually one of the highlights of the series, as they discuss the challenges they met with, like cars parked outside their homes. (You can read more about their experiences in this Buzzfeed article from Warren.)

Others interviewed are more skeptical about the connections between the murders and Russia, with the documentary series doing a good job of presenting multiple sides to the story. The series isn’t particularly visually interesting to look at, nor does the editing stand out, but it’s adequately well-put-together to get its points across.

Whether or not you fully believe in the connection between these murders in the UK and Russia that the series is centered around proving, one thing undeniably becomes clear from watching it: there’s something sketchy about this sort of Russian money existing in the UK’s capitol city and the government and police’s unwillingness to consider their involvement in criminal activities. Warren, in his article mentioned above, states, “The deaths serve as a reminder that Putin’s Russia is as vengeful as it was when he became president at the turn of the millennium.”

It’s almost uncanny good timing for this series to be released this week. Right now, as Russia is in high profile on the world stage for their actions towards Ukraine and Poland, Once Upon a Time in Londongrad is a great watch for questioning what we know of the country’s actions abroad in the past few decades.

What did you think of the Peacock series Once Upon a Time in Londongrad? Comment below.

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