Aside from all the other names and minds brought onto help bring Sky’s latest crime series to life, Gangs Of London, it’s those of co-creators, filmmaker Gareth Huw Evans and noted cinematographer Matt Flannery who stand out the most. Being accredited for developing a film franchise with a world that exudes intrigue, suspense and heightened levels of action and gruesome horror would certainly do the trick, as it has for both veterans of Indonesian action in the last ten years with The Raid and The Raid 2.
With the apparent denoument of their tenure in Indonesia, and no real iota as to what the prospects were, the announcement of a British gangster series that brought both action auteurs on board, along with Corin Hardy and Xavier Gens, to say the least, drew promise. As an original show with high-end demands for action to incorporate with the world-building drama, it also made perfect sense for Evans himself to direct the first episode, thus delivering on the very promise of fans’ expectations.
Save for the usual slow-burn dialogue moments, there’s plenty to draw from in the ninety one-minute pilot episode, immersing you into London’s dark, brutal criminal underworld where the Wallace family stake their claim. An opening shot of the Wallace family’s first born, Sean (Joe Cole), standing atop a building as he readies to immolate the show’s first casualty – hung from a building, interrogated and doused with gasoline before the deal is done – commands the senses with explosive fervor, revealing Sean’s own resolve as a precursor to forthcoming events.
Gangs Of London incrementalizes its pulling of the veil to the viewer, firstly revealing the events of the night the Wallace family’s patriach was murdered in the dead of night in the hallway of a tower block. The protagonists and respective supporting and antagonistic players, otherwise unknowing of each other and certain movements apart from regular meeting room or face-to-face decorum, are unaware of the truth about Finn’s murder, which plays off more like pre-planned assassination in the form of a botched hit.
A number of associates and organizations operate in London, but the Wallace empire, aided closely by Finn’s founding partner, Ed Dumani, is at the top of it all, and everyone, save for a select few, were invited to Finn’s wake and funeral services, and as raw and fresh as the pain is for Sean, so is his anger, and he’s got a bone to pick with everyone in the room. Respectability politics aside, some look down on Sean and see nothing more than an angry boy who has never been around the block. Others see something slightly more in Sean’s anger – one character in particular elucidates this point best, saying to another key player, “A boy like him would burn cities just to convince the world he’s a man.”
As the drama unfolds within the church, so it does on the streets where we meet Elliot (Sope Dirisu), presumably an underling within the organization, who wedges himself into the playing field crossing wits with Albanian gangsters at the nearby pub. A development soon occurs expediently in the form of a closed circuit video footage the night Finn’s injured driver, Jack, taken by Albanian thugs, and against the order of the family’s next most senior advisor and Ed’s son, Alex (Paapa Essiedu), a number of the Wallaces’ enforcers spring into action, thundering into the pub, but it’s Elliot whose quick fists, agility and decisive thinking put him on track to find Jack and bring home.
The Wallaces’ and Dumanis’ are alerted of Elliot’s actions and are quick to hold him to account, spawning a new twist in the story that eventually brings Elliot even closer to the investigation, sans his true identity. As for Sean, apart from his resolve, appearances in his organization, the room is bereft of any real sincerity except for the politics at the table. There is distant whispers, side dealing and alleyway congregating to exacerbate just why it is the element of “trust” falls short with our main character, adding to an almost-perfect cocktail for the kind of calamity that endures in this saga, between the climatic highs and introspective lows.
Gangs Of London takes viewers on a remarkable expositional journey in the first episode, packed with incredible intrigue and nebulous moving pieces to culminate the plot even further. By the end of the pilot, the answers discovered lead to brutal violence, mystery and tragic upheaval that sprawls across continents, and ultimately, even more questions.
The action brings a splendid service of fanfare to the Gareth Evans loyalists, host to action and stunt sequences by Jude Poyer who previously shared the set for Evans’s 2018 period thriller, Apostle. It’s Dirisu’s Elliot who shines proper among the show’s cadre of pugilists, between a pub brawl that spills into a footchase, and a blood-drenching scrapfest with actor and martial artist Lee A. Charles, who plays a sadistic, Cleaver-wielding Welsh gangster heavy. The action and gore are right up to par with all expectations met for folks who’ve followed Evans up to this point, with fight scenes packed with bludgeoning fists and repeat-stabbing, which also contributes to at least one moment of bleak humor in a scene where Sean questions how many gangsters he fought through, guesstimating a total of six, to which Elliot replies “No, eight, but I had a dart, so…”.
Given the show’s current televised run in the U.K., and forthcoming U.K. disc releases from Dazzler, audiences across the pond already have a fair experience of all nine episodes compared to viewers in the U.S., sans anyone who found an illegitimate avenue to watch the series. AMC will be broadcasting the show later this year in the States, where Evans has certainly been a welcome feat in the last ten years due to the success of The Raid films, in addition to the proliferation of his headlining Indonesian talents into the mainstream and international stratosphere. Gangs Of London, no less, will be a welcome feat to North America in due time, with audiences craving for domestic streaming and programming as the Covid-19 pandemic lingers.
For those who haven’t yet seen the complete series, the first epsiode rightly sells with its first chapter as it brims with an explosive set up of multiple arcs and angles for character development, and windows for opportunity to learn more about Sean and Finn, and the extent of his rage and depth of character with respect to his father’s memory, and taking the mantle for an organization that clearly needs weeding out.
Guaranteed, if you’re one of the crowd who’ve missed Evans and Flannery and their contributions to the action and crime genre, you will be in great company with the arrival of this series, and you’ll be pulled in long before the episode’s first major twist.
Production companies: Pulse Films, Sister Pictures, Sky Studios
Cast: Joe Cole, Sope Dirisu, Colm Meaney, Michelle Fairley, Paapa Essiedu and Lucian Msamati.
Director: Gareth Evans
Writer: Gareth Evans, Matt Flannery
Producer: Hugh Warren
Executive producer: Thomas Benski, Lucas Ochoa, Jane Featherstone, Gareth Evans, Matt Flannery, Gabriel Silver
Director of photography: Matt Flannery
Production designer: Matt Gant
Music: Jeremy Stack
Music Supervisor: Iain Cooke
Stunt Coordinator: Jude Poyer