Gangs of London review: Why gore-fest is too much to handle

Gangs of London

(L-R) Sope Dirisu as Elliot Finch and Joe Cole as Sean Wallace in Gangs of London. Picture: PA Photo/©Sky UK Limited

Gangs of London

Sky Atlantic

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Two stars out of five

One of my favourite Colemanballs – when a sports commentator ruptures a metaphor or takes a fresh-air shot at some lyrical description – came from Sid Waddell: “There’s only one word for that – magic darts!”

I thought of it during this gangster drama. I had to think of it to take my mind off the pub brawl when a bunch of Albanian thugs were wiped out by an ex-squaddie. There were eight of them – how had he done it? “I had a dart,” he deadpanned.

Maybe you think that’s funny. Well, it was the only near-joke in an epicly gruesome 105 minutes where countless limbs were forced into unnatural positions, cleavers swished and walls were drenched in blood, the most conciliatory hood proved he hadn’t lost his knack with a switchblade and not a single bone ground down to powder was missed by the high-quality sound editing.

Maybe you’ve got the stomach for this sort of stuff; I haven’t. Or I don’t right now when a nurse on the news waiting for her mask makes me cry. Call me a sap; I don’t care. Call this unlucky scheduling for Gangs of London. Or just call it a grim gore-fest.

I loved The Sopranos and Peter McDougall’s Just a Boys’ Game, both of which were incredibly violent, but the former was positively Shakespearean while the latter, set in 1970s gangland Greenock, contained the funniest lines ever uttered under the banner of Play for Today.

Joe Cole, who plays Sean Wallace, avenging son of a slain gangland overlord, thinks there’s a touch of the Hamlets about his central character but I don’t see it. Gangs of London can’t seem to make up its mind whether it wants to be The Godfather or is content trying to out-slash the slashers.

Maybe the most valid comparison is with Birmingham’s Peaky Blinders, Cole’s former manor.

Perhaps Gangs of London thinks the second city saga is getting a bit wizened and slow, that it’s reached peak Peaky. “Oi!” Gangs might shout. “The Spaghetti Junction Western? We ain’t ’avin’ it!”

Except here’s a funny thing: Sean doesn’t speak like a lock, stock and cockney hoodlum. His father, he tells the mourners, “lives on in the murmurs of a thousand languages … his smile alone would have washed away the silence that fills this room.” The voice is educated, a bit camp. If you joined the drama at this point you might have thought it was a Richard Curtis production, Four Funerals and a Wedding perhaps.

Later came this from Sean: “I will take a f*****g belt-sander to your eyes.” Note that he doesn’t drop the g in f*****g. But a Curtis character has never dangled a poor wretch by the ankles from a skyscraper then set him ablaze.

That was the opening scene. The skyscraper was under construction, like many others on the cityscape, the cranes twinkling with aircraft warning-lights, flashing a message in morse code to Brum and beyond: “This is London, centre of the known universe. You wouldn’t Adam and Eve how much money slooshes around down here, and some it might even be legit.”

The non-legit millions involve Russia, Iran and Pakistan as well as Albania. The multi-cultural mobsters have become a Disunited Nations while Sean has closed the port to hunt his dad’s killer. At one point I found myself turning into Piers Morgan, wailing: “Where oh where are the police?” Then the former soldier revealed himself to be an undercover cop. He’s played by Sope Dirisu who’s already stealing the show from Cole.

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