Top Five British Gangster Films

Written by Matteo Sedazzari
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The British gangster movie, tales of no messing geezers, who conduct shady deals whilst evading the long arm of the law. Fellas who like to have a drink with the lads, buy their mothers flowers and have a bit on the side.

At ZANI, we adore this genre and more so. We admire the movies that capture the psychotic nature of the British gangster and their vulnerability. Men who live in a world of paranoia, inhabited by false loyalties and misplaced trust. One day the gangster could be dancing and drinking in a room full of leggy blondes and busty brunettes. And the next day, he could be staring down the barrel of a shotgun.

Dont be a grass you slag, because we all know what happens to grasses. Put out that cigarette and keep a look out, as ZANI proudly presents The Top Five British Gangster film
The Long Good Friday (1980)

A fast paced thriller starring Bob Hoskins as Harold Shand, a born and bred Londoner and gangland leader. Whose heyday was in the Sixties. Shand yearns for the golden era. The days when you could leave your back door unlocked, and every one in the street knew your name.

Shand’s love for London is his focal point, as he aims to make the capital a major financial city again. To support his vision, Shand seeks monetary aid overseas from the American Mafia. However, times have changed. Shand and his gang now face a more deadly foe then the Mafia and rival London firms, the IRA. Little by little, Shand starts to see his empire crumble.

The Long Good Friday is a brutal film, which centres on deceit, fair-weather friends and tragic loss. As Shand’s world starts to fall apart, more and more of his acquaintances start to jump ship. Soon Shand and his beautiful girlfriend Victoria (Helen Mirren) are left to fend for themselves.

The whole chain of events revolves around the Easter weekend. A religious holiday that celebrates hopes and rejoice, not disaster. Hoskins performance is intensely physical and acted with raw energy, which leaves the viewer captivated. The Long Good Friday is an eerie and a classic story of revenge and betrayal, a modern day tragedy.
Sexy Beast (2000)

Gary ‘Gal’ Dove (Ray Winstone) has retired from his former occupation as a London gangster. He resides in a villa in Spain with his sexy wife DeeDee (Amanda Redman). ‘Gal’ loves nothing better than to swim in his pool and sunbathe all day, whilst knocking back some fine Spanish beer.

Gary Dove is content, and does not want anything to do with his past life as a gangster. But any gangster worth his salt knows the golden rule. Once you are in, you can never get out.

The arrival of the psychotic gangster, Don ‘Malky’ Logan (Ben Kingsley) proves that there is no getting away from the past. Soon Gal and DeeDee’s idyllic life becomes a faded dream, as they enter into a brutal nightmare. Ben Kingsley performance as Malky is mesmerising. He thunders through each scene like an emotional steamroller, with anger and determination. ‘No no no no no no…NO!” A classic line delivered by Kingsley delivers to Winstone is alike to a verbal machine gun. Sexy Beast shows the hierarchy that exists within the underworld and is a classic tale of live by the sword, die by the sword.

The film contains strong support from two actors, who are no strangers the world of British gangster films. James Fox as Harry and Ian McShane as Crime King pin Teddy Bass. Both appear respectively again in ZANI’s Top Five British Gangster films.

Performance (1970)

It can be naively presumed that ‘Performance’ is a pop film. Yes, it may be a ‘pop film’, as it features one of the world’s biggest rock stars, Mick Jagger, a great soundtrack (The Lost Poets, Buffy Sainte –Marie, Ry Cooder) and hedonism. Yet the film is the story of Chas (James Fox). A merciless but attractive criminal who has to flee the police and fellow gang members.

Whilst on the run Chas seeks shelter in a Notting Hill home. Only to find the house is home to declining bisexual rock star Turner (Mick Jagger), his drugged up girlfriend Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) and her lover Lucy (Michele Breton). Chas is about to enter into unknown bohemian world of madness, narcotics, and sexual promiscuity. Chas being the hard man, that he is, believes that can control the situation. How wrong Chas is. Chas soon finds that he is out of his depth with Turner and his gorgeous entourage. He starts to lose his identity, as he submerges himself into debauched profligacy. Now the show begins. We start to see the vulnerability and insecurity of the thug and the loneliness and reclusive life of the rock star. Two counter cultures meeting, their worlds collide.

As Chas starts to enjoy his new home, he is oblivious that his enemies are closing in. Proof that escape from the underworld is virtually impossible.

Both Fox and Richards have great dialogue. However Jagger steals the show with the immortal lines, that every up and coming band should take heed


Villain (1971)

Gangsters the Richardson's were jailed in 1967 and the Krays followed two years later. With these main gangs of the sixties behind bars, filmmakers in the early seventies decided to change the public perception of gangsters. By making films that illustrated the dark and disturbing side of their world, films like ‘Get Carter’ and ‘Villain’.  ‘Villain’, was released within weeks of ‘Get Carter’. Both are strong, powerful and well-acted movies. It was hard, to decide which one of them made into ZANI’s top five of British gangster films. Yet it was Richard Burton’s performance as Vic Dakin, a heartless homosexual gangland boss with a mother fixation. The excellent script by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (both later to become household names with ‘Porridge’ and ‘Auf Weidersein Pet’) based on the James Barlow’s novel ‘The Burden of Proof’, that gives ‘Villain’ the edge.  Vic Dakin was based on Ronnie Kray and similar to Ronnie Kray, Dakin is becoming paranoid that grasses may be bringing down his domain. So begins a terror campaign to eliminate the stool pigeons, plan a robbery and blackmail Members of Parliament.

We observe corruption within so called ‘respectable’ society. We start to understand that one of the main reasons why gangsters’ stay powerful and free, is that they have friends in high places.

With ‘Villain’, we gain a strong insight into psychotic nature of the gangster. Gangsters similar to Dakin enjoy harm and posses sadistic tendencies. Moreover there are scenes where Dakin beats up his boyfriend Wolfe Lissner, wonderfully played by Ian McShane. Which exemplifies Dakin’s desire for pain.

The inevitable happens and Dakin loses control of his world. But even when Dakin is up against it, he still fears no man alive. As the final scene demonstrates, when Dakin is arrested, he stares menacingly at the camera, and utters the bloodcurdling line, “what are you looking at?”

Mona Lisa (1986)

The Mona Lisa is a haunting painting of a woman with an enigmatic smile. The Mona Lisa is perhaps the most famous painting in the world, few other works of art are romanticised or celebrated as much. It is an obsessive and lingering picture. This is how George (Bob Hoskins, 2nd appearance as the lead in this Top five) feels about Simone (Cathy Tyson) in the film `Mona Lisa`. George was recently released from prison, after serving seven years at Her Majesty's pleasure. And he finds the world of petty crime has changed dramatically over the years. He once earned a humble living as an enforcer, but now drugs and hard-core porn are the order of day.

Finding it hard to adjust to his new environment, he seeks employment and finds work as a driver to Simone, a high society prostitute.

George’s immediate boss is gangland boss Denny Mortwell (Michael Caine). Mortwell seems to be a darker and sinister version of a previous incarnation of Caine’s, Charlie Corker from ‘The Italian Job’. As if the heist in Turin has made him a bitter man. Mortwell is a cold-hearted, deceitful Thatcherite, who firmly believes that ‘greed is good’. A friendship develops between George and Simone, as George slowly and unwilling starts to fall in love with her. Whilst Simone uses George's unwanted affection to her advantage, George delves deeper in Mortwell’s depraved world.

Soon we are taken on a dark journey into a sleazy underworld of alleyways, seedy hotel rooms and tunnels. Places where all morals are left at the door.

Mona Lisa moves away from a crime drama and the film becomes a character study and a story of George’s redemption. George is deeply hurt and confused when he realises that Simone will never be the woman he hoped for.Yet salvation comes to George from his daughter and the comic relief of Thomas (Robbie Coltrane), George’s only real friend, who is convinced that he can make a good living from selling ornamental spaghetti.

Bob Hoskins was rightly nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as George. However Paul Newman piped Hoskins at the post, for his reprise as Fast Eddie in ‘The Colour of Money’

It would have been easy to choose Get Carter or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. These are good entertaining films, but they seem to be more aimed at the commercial market and in some respect not offering a good understanding of the underworld. By choosing the above, ZANI would be neglecting other great British Gangster film classics, that deserve equal airtime and admiration. 

Anyway Im off, Jumbo Jones is back in town and hes calling in a debt. Come on, you know how it works.

Read 7601 times Last modified on Wednesday, 11 November 2020 18:39
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Matteo Sedazzari

Matteo Sedazzari

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