The main selling point of Gangs of London (Sky Atlantic, Thursday 9pm) is that it’s the most violent thing on TV. Gorier as Game of Thrones. Creepier than Teletubbies. Loaded with more high kicks, pirouettes and bloodthirsty screams than Ryan Tubridy’s big song-and-dance number on The Late Late Toy Show. It’s so frightening.
But for Irish viewers, the series, which returned for its second season after a two-year absence, arguably hit its climax too soon by killing off Colm Meaney in the first episode. Meaney played Finn Wallace, the patriarch of a London crime dynasty. In his absence, all-out war broke out in the Cockney underworld, and when Gangs of London returns, that conflict rages on.
Gosh, there’s a lot of bloodshed. Episode one features gouged eyes, bloated jawbones, and a scene where a tough man forces a gangster to swallow three bullets and then shoot his comrade
This is one of those shows where finding someone to cheer for can be a chore. Each character is a different flavor of evil. This includes Michelle Fairley, the Antrim actress who will forever be known as Catelyn Stark from Game of Thrones, who plays Finn’s vengeful widow, Marian.
Gangs of London comes closest to a hero in Paapa Essiedu as corrupt financier Alexander Dumani. He is introduced looking out the window of a gleaming office building, contemplating both the city beyond and his awaiting fate. With his shiny suit and elegant pattern, he looks more like a contestant on The Apprentice than a ruthless money launderer. They always expect him to introduce himself as the team leader while Karren gapes at Brady disapprovingly.
But instead of Brady looking disappointed or Alan Sugar pointing his fat finger at the sinking, the excitement in Gangs of London springs from bloodshed. Gosh, there are a lot of them. Episode one features gouged eyes, bloated jawbones, and a scene where Palestinian tough man Koba forces a gangster to swallow three bullets and then shoot his comrade.
Written down, Gangs of London sounds like throwaway Brits. However, the show caused a sensation when it debuted in 2020 and is one of Sky Atlantic’s biggest hits this side of Game of Thrones.
What’s the appeal? It’s not the dialogue that makes Peaky Blinders sound like David Mamet. Gangs of London can’t be accused of seducing you with a multi-faceted plot either, as the plot consists of nasty individuals attacking each other with guns, fists, meat hooks and more. It’s all down to the action, drawing on its creator Gareth Evans’ background in gun-fu cinema and films like The Raid.
All that’s missing this season is an Irishman with a big head and a scolding mouth. In other words, time to revive Finn Wallace. Sure, he’s dead. But that didn’t stop Game of Thrones from reviving Jon Snow
Still, it’s hard not to feel like Evans is resting on his laurels a little. A few years ago he took a break from the action genre to make Apostle, a deranged folk horror film set in Wales and starring Michael Sheen as the demented preacher. It was a pleasantly cruel update of The Wicker Man – and a lot smarter and more gripping than Gangs of London.
But he emphatically gets back to basics when Gangs returns to Sky. And it has everything that fans of the series could want, namely roaring crackers and geysers of blood.
All that’s missing is an Irishman with a big head and a scolding mouth. In other words, time to revive Finn Wallace. Sure, he’s dead. But that didn’t stop Game of Thrones from reviving Jon Snow. And given that Gangs of London is determined to usurp Thrones as TV’s most shocking franchise, the logic is irrefutable. Colm Meaney’s comeback campaign starts here.
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