The British gangster film is a genre that has taken on a world of its own. Grey-tinged gritty streets, fast-paced cheeky dialogue and crime-ridden organisations thriving under the buzzing metropolis of London, have all shaped the ethos of gangland thrillers. Unlike their grandiose American counterparts, Brits tend to strive for realism; an exposé of a very real underworld, rather than a flashy Italian-American operation that centres on family values. Realism doesn’t mean doom and gloom, though. Behind the grittiness is acerbic British wit as dry as London’s finest gins – it’s not all geezers and cockney rhyming slang, you know.
As the genre continues to evolve, most recently with the upcoming release of nail-biting thriller Tango One available on digital download from 5th March and DVD from 19th March, we’re taking a look at the best British gangster films, past and present, which have influenced the genre and made it into what we know and love today:
The Long Good Friday (1980)
Where better to start? The Long Good Friday is a quintessential British crime classic. From the second you hear the emphatic synth soundtrack opening the film and see Bob Hoskins at his rip-roaring best; you know you’re in for a treat. Hoskins plays Harold Shand, a successful cockney mobster with a yacht, penthouse and an intelligent mistress (Helen Mirren).
When a series of bombs go off at a vital turning point for his empire, Shand is convinced that there must be a traitor among his ranks and he will find out – through any means necessary. The film that paved the way for others like it, The Long Good Friday is one of the most influential thrillers to have graced British cinema.
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