Friday, April 02, 2021

Gangs of London, now on Regular AMC

This could be the Shogun or Lonesome Dove of TV adaptations of video games. Frankly, few gamers are likely to remember the PSP game that inspired it, but that gave Gareth Evans (of The Raid franchise) and co-creator Matt Flannery a lot of latitude, which they made good use of. Most importantly, Evans’ signature flair for action comes shining through in Gangs of London, which comes out from behind the AMC+ pay-wall when it premieres Sunday on the regular AMC.

Both the London underworld and the realm of City high finance will be shaken by the murder of crime boss and construction magnate Finn Wallace. The young Traveller who pulled the trigger had no idea who he was duped into killing, but he soon goes into hiding. Tracking down any lead will help deep undercover cop Elliott Finch rise in the ranks of the Wallace gang. He certainly has the fighting skills, as we see in the
Raid-like first episode, directed by Evans.

Subsequent episodes fall into a bit of a pattern, wherein the first two acts explore the intrigue of the Wallace organization and their rivalries and alliances with other ethnic-identified gangs in London, but they usually conclude with a big, loud action set piece. The one at the end of episode two (directed by Corin Hardy) is especially brutal, but the spectacularly cinematic shoot-out climax of episode five (also helmed by Evans) could very well be the highlight of the entire series.

For what its worth, the gangster-finance-politics skullduggery is also interesting in its own right. In fact, it is a minor miracle Evans, Flannery, and their team of co-writers were allowed to portray Nasir Afridi, a leftwing Labour candidate for London mayor and the son of a Pakistani drug cartel boss in such unflattering terms.

Regardless, it is the action that hooks viewers and it should make Sope Dirisu an international star. He has serious action cred and he burns up the screen with his brooding intensity. He also generates some effective heat with Pippa Bennett-Warner, playing his potential love interest, Shannon Dumani, the daughter of Ed Dumani, Wallace’s consigliere and legit business partner.

Lucian Msamati is great as the elder statesman Dumani, while Narges Rashidi steals all her scenes as Lale, the leader of the Kurdish nationalist gang that sort of allies itself with Sean Wallace, the reckless heir apparent. Even though his character is killed in the first episode, the great Colm Meaney casts a long flashback shadow over the first season as old Finn Wallace. Yet, the mature and grizzled Mark Lewis Jones, Richard Harrington, and Orli Shuka probably impress the most in their blood-soaked, super-charged action scenes as the leaders of the Welsh Traveller gang and the head of the Albanian syndicate.

The action in the episodes Evans helmed can hold their own with anything in his films. Admittedly, episode five is a bit of a narrative detour, but it is totally worth taking. This is definitely some of the best fight choreography and action direction ever produced for television. (Fair warning, the energy of the second episode flags a bit, but the series picks up again thereafter.) Highly recommended for fans of Evans’ films and gangster dramas in general,
Gangs of London starts its free run this Sunday (4/4) on regular AMC.