Gangs of London, review: An unholy combination of EastEnders and The Raid that never quite gels

Gangs of London, review: An unholy combination of EastEnders and The Raid that never quite gels

Gangs of London, review: An unholy combination of EastEnders and The Raid that never quite gels

Gangs of London, review: An unholy combination of EastEnders and The Raid that never quite gels

Gangs of London, review: An unholy combination of EastEnders and The Raid that never quite gels 1

While it’s titled Gangs of London, Sky Atlantic’s new and buzzy crime actioner may as well have been called “Grrr, Men”. It’s a unrelentingly butch series, as fixated on male brooding as it is discovering precisely what might happen if you smashed a pint glass into your enemy’s chin. It would also be a lot more fun if it didn’t downplay its own silliness.

A gangland hit that takes out crime family patriarch Colm Meaney gets things going, setting up a series in which gangsters of all varieties commingle – there are the Jamaican and Irish, a collection of slippery Russians, and the Albanian and Iranian mafia. All are immaculately well-dressed, well-spoken and overtly shifty, each with suitable reason to execute Meaney.

Peaky Blinders graduate Joe Cole, a striking combination of Jack O’Connell and a tube of waterproof lashblast mascara, is one of our co-leads: he’s Meaney’s son, and stuck somewhere between emulating his father and striking out alone. The other star of the series is Sope Dirisu, rising up the ranks of Meaney’s organisation as an anonymous hardman who also possesses a collection of very special skills and a possible ulterior motive.


Gangs of London marks the TV arrival of Gareth Evans, whose askew directorial career took him out of his native Wales, straight into Southeast Asia action cinema and then back home again. His big-budget debut, 2011’s The Raid, remains a staggeringly impressive thriller, with its long, intense takes of bloody-knuckled fight choreography inspiring everything from John Wick to the most recent Star Wars trilogy. He replicates it here, too – the highlights of Gangs of London’s first episode are two brutal fight sequences involving Dirisu. Bones are broken, bellies are slashed and anything vaguely pointy can become a murder weapon in an instant. Clearly no expense has been spared, but it does expose the show’s biggest problem.

Evans’ series is an unholy combination of The Raid and EastEnders, its violence just as heightened as its soapy dialogue is ludicrous. Yet it sadly only fully embraces the former. No attempts are made to disguise the absurdity of the show’s action sequences, which often appear to have been staged by the killer from the Saw movies, so Rube Goldbergian are they in their overly complex glory. The script, meanwhile, tends to wallow in giggle-inducing melodrama. The result is a sea of broken men with sad eyes, staring contemplatively off the edges of buildings as if they’re Batman.

The show does well to quickly build its own mythology, and there are interesting elements sprinkled throughout related to class, race and poor, Sixties immigrants raising well-educated sons – for a couple of professional killers, both Cole and Dirisu weirdly speak as if they went to school with Benedict Cumberbatch. You just wish Gangs of London would settle on a consistent mood: either lean into the nonsense, or quit pretending you’re The Wire. As it stands, you probably wouldn’t want to join this particular gang.


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