If you’ve seen Gareth Evans’ The Raid, you’ll know he’s extremely creative when it comes to duffing people up. The Raid and its sequel were packed with intricately choreographed, marathon fight scenes that found ingenious ways to snap limbs and blow off heads. This, Evans’ first TV series (co-created with Matt Flannery), makes ample use of those skills, as a great swarm of criminals battle for control of London, very, very violently. If you don’t like the sight of blood, may we recommend watching anything but this.
As any crime epic must, Gangs of London centres on a family. The Wallaces are the black heart of criminal activity in London. Every other criminal organisation connects to them. Within the show’s opening minutes, the Wallace patriarch, Finn (Colm Meany), is murdered. His son Sean (Peaky Blinders’ Joe Cole) hastily grabs the reins of the empire, instructing all London’s crime bosses that operations stop until he finds out who ordered the hit on his dad. Nobody complies, of course, and a wrestle for power begins. It’s a giant war where anyone can be bumped off at any moment and almost anyone could wind up in charge of everything. Think Game of Thrones, but without the dragons and more modern tailoring.
In terms of plot, Gangs of London doesn’t give us much we haven’t seen before. All the crime saga requisites are there: a useless brother who has never taken to the family business; a mother who clearly controls more than she lets on; a mole trying to evade detection/death. But they’re rarely so slickly and stylishly present. From the opening scene, which manages to make a man being hung upside down from a tower and set on fire incredibly beautiful, Gangs of London looks astonishing. It’s all far too polished to look like the real London, but the heightened style is part of the point. This isn’t a realistic drama. It’s a classy, bloody soap opera.
And so, so, very much blood. Evans’ fight scenes (he directs three episodes) are the best you’ll see on TV. Whether it’s someone slicing his way through a pub armed with a single dart, or a battle in which a mattress becomes a deadly weapon, each fight – and there are many – is imaginatively devised and expertly staged and edited. It might be a while until we see another action blockbuster in the cinema, but this will definitely slake that thirst.
The opening episodes show immense promise, setting up such a vast array of characters that this could run indefinitely, well beyond the solving of Finn’s murder. With a long wait until Peaky Blinders returns, there’s room for another lavish, sprawling crime drama. Gangs of London confidently barges its way into that space. It could well wind up challenging for the title of best crime drama on British TV.
‘Gangs Of London’ is out now on Sky TV