There were plenty of TV shows around this week designed to cheer us up. Sky Atlantic’s Gangs of London, however, wasn’t one of them. After decades of desensitisation, it’s not easy for any film or television programme these days to make its screen violence genuinely horrifying. Yet, by my reckoning, Thursday’s first episode managed to do it at least twice before the opening credits had even rolled.
By the time they did, it was clear that two terrified Welsh lowlifes from some kind of travellers’ camp had been tricked into carrying out a hit on Finn Wallace (Colm Meaney), London’s most powerful criminal boss — rather than, as they’d fondly imagined, ‘just some paedo’. But that was clear only to us. The members of Wallace’s crime organisation, now led by Finn’s out-of-his-depth son Sean (Joe Cole from the not-dissimilar Peaky Blinders), had no idea who’d killed their much-loved leader: a man portrayed in the funeral eulogies as a stout defender of the disadvantaged and — seeing as his inner circle consisted of black and Irish people — an inspirational champion of multiculturalism. (On the debit side, we later learned that he was also fond of taking a belt sander to people’s eyes.)
In the kind of inadvertent topical reference that seems hard to avoid at the moment, Sean’s immediate reaction was to declare a full lockdown. Much to the pursed-lipped disapproval of his father’s faithful old retainer Ed (Lucian Msamati), no drugs would be shifted, no money laundered and no deals made until Sean had tracked down the people who’d murdered his dad.
To begin with, suspicion fell on the organisation’s Albanian associates, which is why one Wallace foot soldier took out eight of them in a pub fight armed with just a single dart.