Audiences don’t necessarily cut their teeth on the work of Gareth Evans, but rather have them kicked in, to be swallowed like tic-tacs. With not one, but two of the greatest action movies ever made under his belt, hopes were high that the insane brain behind The Raid and The Raid 2’s venture to the small screen would hit just as hard. It only takes the first 30 minutes of his new series to verify that. If you thought Kingsman had the best bar-room brawl caught on film, Gangs of London beats it into submission with one man, an ashtray, and a dart.
Following the assassination of a revered and powerful crime lord, his son sets out on a mission to confirm who pulled the trigger and most importantly, who ordered the hit. Already one familiar with gang warfare, Peaky Blinders and A Prayer Before Dawn’s Joe Cole plays Sean Wallace, a vengeful heir to the throne who sends shock-waves across the streets of the capital and the various other families that rule it in an effort to get the truth. With potential traitors at every corner and secrets within his own family, Sean soon finds that the only person he may be able to trust is low-level nobody Elliot Finch (Sope Dirisu), who after one trip to the pub certifies himself not just the most compelling character in the series, but one of the most promising talents the show has to offer.
For Evans, it’s unquestionably his biggest endeavour. Not only does Gangs of London deliver that same wince-inducing action that Evans’ fans will be prepared for (and the uninitiated will be blown away by) through nine episodes, but also has a story that finds its way down into the various cracks of the criminal underworld he’s built with co-writer Matt Flannery. Besides Wallace and Finch, there’s an eclectic band of family members, both immediate and from the opposing side that flesh out a sprawling saga. Each have their own compelling enforcers and bosses that are trying to return to business following this major death, and the finger-pointing that’s spawned from it.
The Sopranos this certainly isn’t, but in the hands of Evans, it plays like the closest thing to a live-action Grand Theft Auto you could ever get, as the likes of machete-wielding triads in trenchcoats take on Turkish mafia families, and it spelling Game Over for various folk involved. This toybox of tough guys means an absolute arsenal of hard cases for Evans to play with and pillage, with stand out sequences being Elliot taking on a meat-cleaver wielding mountain, and a siege on a cottage so jaw-droppingly brilliant, it rivals any scrap that Game of Thrones got itself in to. Make no mistake, episode 5 of Gangs of London is the new episode 9. Every so often though, in between the broken bones and various forms of body decimation, there is time to breathe, allowing characters to reflect, have a word and annoyingly bring the show to an often jarring halt.
Gangs of London applies the drama as much as it does the pain at times, but this isn’t as balanced as it could be. For one, Cole as the show’s leading mob boss in the making is all-bark-and-no-bite and the character development is a muddled one, setting up questions about his past with some rather iffy answers. The same goes for the rest of the Wallace clan and their closest allies, the Dumani family, who are ticking the tropes off, drifting among the carnage as it unfolds. There’s the scared-straight business head, the outcast with the addiction and the vengeful widow all trying to get what’s theirs and none of them are really as compelling they should be. This leaves Dirisu to carry the weight, and he does so brilliantly. While Elliot is the typical low-level gangster that makes his way up in the ranks, seeing him do so is the show’s biggest draw. Handling the hero role brilliantly, he invigorates every tussle he gets himself in, punching and beating any poor soul that thinks they have a chance.
Dirisu’s Elliot is the highlight of the series, which will leave you crossing your fingers that a return trip to London is on the cards, because this one is a hell of a ride.
Created by: Gareth Evans, Matt Flanner
Cast: Joe Cole, Michelle Fairley, Colm Meaney, Lucian Msamati, Brian Vernel, Asif Raza Mir,