The British film scene has become synonymous with the rough-talkin’, underground gangster world that seems to thrive under our murky, grey skies. The gritty realism that is often absent in bigger budget counterparts from across the pond is at the forefront of the genre’s aesthetic, allowing audiences to get as close to the gangsters’ mean mugs as possible without taking a drastic career change.
With the genre continuing to intrigue audiences across the world, most recently with the release of London Heist out on DVD and Digital Download on July 17th, we’re taking the opportunity to take a look back at some of the pantheon of great British gangster films:
Alan Clarke’s drama is a brutal and depressing polemic about the British borstal system of the 70s as well as the home of Ray Winstone’s break-out performance. ‘Scum’ refers to the label slapped upon young-offender and reform-school inmate, Carlin (Winstone). When he isn’t being beaten up by the other boys, Ray is being beaten down by The System. He rebels against this treatment and becomes more vicious than any of his oppressors. Scum raised a young Winstone’s profile and helped him grow into his now much-loved “tough guy” persona. Who could forget the iconic scene in which Carlin places two snooker balls inside a sock and beats Banks and his cronies to within an inch of their lives!
The Long Good Friday (1982)
Since the late, great Bob Hoskins death only a few years ago, this influential London gangster film has been remembered as probably his greatest role, as mobster Harold Shand. Shand’s world is sweet — he lives in a fancy penthouse, he owns a yacht, and has a sensitive and intelligent mistress. But suddenly a bomb explodes inside his Rolls Royce, another bomb destroys a pub he owns, and a third is found inside his casino. Shand can’t understand who would suddenly want him dead, but he is going to make damn sure he finds out before his envied life is cut short. This film was certainly ahead of the curb, and paved the way for the genre’s hay-day in the late 90s/early noughties.
Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, directed by Guy Ritchie, is gripping, witty and extremely… cockney. The film follows four friends who are involved in a botched card game in London. They collide with drug dealers, gangsters, loan sharks and debt collectors in order to gain cash, weed and two antique shotguns. With a cast including the mighty Jason Statham (The Expendables, The Transporter), Jason Flemyng (Clash of the Titans, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Dexter Fletcher (Kick-Ass, The Elephant Man), Nick Moran (Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow P1 & 2), and real-life bouncer and enforcer Lenny ‘The Guv’nor’ McLean”. Lock Stock is comfortably one of the greatest British gangster films of all time.
Another masterpiece by Ritchie: two plots unwind, one dealing with the search for a missing diamond and the other with a small-time boxing promoter who gets himself under the control of a brutal gangster. With a similar style to Lock Stock and a blockbuster cast, Ritchie pulls off yet another brilliant gangster film. Brad Pitt (Ocean’s Eleven, Fight Club) stars as an extremely convincing ‘pikey’.
Sexy Beast (2000)
Don Logan, played by Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Iron Man 3), is a brutal gangster, who recruits ‘retired’ safecracker Gal, played by our man Ray Winstone for one final job; however, it doesn’t end well for either of them. What ensues is a battle of wills between the two men, with Don intimidating, prodding, and manipulating his one-time friend to get what he wants, forever changing the lives of those around him in the process. It’s smart, it’s thrilling and both Kingsley and Winstone pull off astonishing performances.
Football Factory (2004)
Testosterone and football merge in this violent portrayal of middle-class England in Nick Love’s adrenaline charged and sexually charged adaptation of the John King novel. The film has excellent performances including Danny Dyer (Severance, The Business), Frank Harper (In the Name of the Father, This is England) and Tamer Hassan. (Kick Ass, Layer Cake). Shot in documentary style with the energy and vibrancy of handheld, The Football Factory is frighteningly real yet full of painful humour as the four characters’ extreme thoughts and actions unfold before us.
In Bruges (2008)
Two hitmen, Ray and Ken, travel to the medieval Belgian city of Bruges on their boss’ orders to cool their heads after their last job went horribly wrong. Very much out of place, the two hit men fill their days living the lives of tourists. Ray, still haunted by the bloodshed in London, hates the place, while Ken manages to relax, even as he keeps a fatherly eye on Ray’s often profanely funny exploits. Their vacation becomes a life-and-death struggle of darkly comic proportions and surprisingly emotional consequences. Although this may not be thought of as a gangster film because of its setting, the dark comedy, inelegant language and horrific violence means it feels right at home on this list.
London Heist (2017)
Finally, we come to the latest addition to this ever-burgeoning list. London Heist, stars a roster of dependably violent Brit screen heroes including Steven Berkoff (The Krays, Octopussy), Roland Manookian (The Business), Mem Ferda (Revolver), James Cosmo (Game Of Thrones ) and Craig Fairbrass (Rise of the Footsoldier, The Bank Job). Directed by the BAFTA-nominated Mark McQueen, the film is a gripping revenge thriller which follows career criminal Jack Creegan (Fairbrass) on a mission for revenge following his father’s brutal murder. The shattering revelations that follow, force Jack to pull off one last dangerous robbery on his way to exacting a brutal revenge on all those involved. The film gives fans exactly what they look for from a British gangster flick; cockney slang, a tale of revenge and a healthy dose of vengeful violence. Lovely jubbly!