British Gangster Films
Favourite British Gangster Films
Fat Lad’s top half-dozen British gangster films set out here in reverse order.
Some you may agree with, some you may not.
Think – Sergio Tacchini, Fila , 80s Music, drugs, guns and the Costa Del Crime
Written and directed by Nick Love, this film is set in Spain where the villains were all living their lives out in the sunshine. Moving on from payroll robberies in the UK, they’d decided to move into the easier and slower paced drug running, from Africa into Spain.
Charlie runs a bar on the Costa and is part of a 4 man team including Sammy (played by the snarling Geoff Bell), Ronnie and Danny.
Meanwhile back in a cold, wet London young lad Frankie (Danny Dyer) is disillusioned with life, getting a slap from mothers latest bloke, the prospect of life on the dole doesn’t appeal. So when he’s offered the chance to pop across to Spain to deliver a package, he decides to give it a go.
Here he meets Playboy Charlie who is living life to the full. Soft top Merc, nightclub and an impressive suntan, gained by sitting around the pool at his villa.
This film takes you through the greed, the bitterness, the desperation, the highs and lows of the characters. Moving from bringing in weed, they’re advised (read that as warned) by the local Mayor, he’s willing to turn a blind eye, but cocaine is a massive no-no. Needless to say, greed means they move onto importing cocaine and here the troubles begin.
Not such a big cast, Tamer Hassan takes the lead as Charlie, this film is nice to get out of London for the sun and scenery.
From 2005, this is one of those British gangster films you watch once you’ve seen the track list, especially if you lived in the 80s & 90s and wore the casuals clothing. The Business comes in last of the 6 but first on the list at number 6.
The haunting theme tune is easily recognised after the first 3 or 4 notes. Roy Budd wrote and played the Get Carter theme. Noted for the dry tone of the film, there are some noteworthy quotes;
“You’re a big man, but you’re in bad shape. With me, it’s a full-time job. Now behave yourself.”
This is the 1971 original film, not the rancid Stallone remake. Mike Hodges first film as a director.
London gangster Jack Carter travels to Newcastle for the funeral after his brother dies under mysterious circumstances in a car accident.
After asking questions about the supposed accident, then being advised to leave town by the local heavies, he decides to stay to see what exactly happened.
Carter becomes embroiled in the underbelly of the Newcastle crime scene, where a couple of rival gangs are playing him off against the other.
As things reveal themselves, attempts are made to silence him, before he can get to the truth. What they failed to understand is how determined and focused Carter could be to get to the truth.
One scene here shows Carter (Michael Caine) engaging almost in phone sex with Anna (Britt Ekland), proving it’s not such a modern trait.
Shot on location around Newcastle & the North East, this was a powerful film for its time and it makes the final 6 of our British crime films coming in at number 5.
Another fine cast including stars: Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Farina saw a mish-mash of stories blending together. Russian gangsters robbing a diamond merchant in Belgium, the courier being double-crossed in London, meaning the American gangsters need to come across to try to sort out the mess. Frankie Four Fingers has just one simple job to do, that’s to sell this huge stone. What could go wrong?
All the while there’s a small time un-licenced boxing promoter who’s also trying to move up the ladder, entering into a business arrangement with Brick Top, a London face who has a penchant of feeding people to pigs. Boxing fights that are fixed go wrong, but not just the once.
This is a gritty look once again at life as a small-time crook, either as an enforcer for Bricktop or dealing with moody gold in the pawnbrokers shops. You see examples of don’t bring a knife to a gun fight, which in the real world is how these scenes are played out. If you’re involved in violence, you’re prepared to pull out a blade, then you’d better be prepared to use it. You’d also better be prepared in case the other bloke has a shooter and is prepared to use it.
Vinnie Jones plays another good, bad guy Brad Pitt is the Pikey boxer who decides he’s a law unto himself and doesn’t think or worry about how his actions affect others around him.
Throw in some hare coursing and an armed robbery on the wrong bookies and it all makes an interesting and exciting film.
This is a good film, some twists and turns that weren’t expected. This does make it into my top 6 British gangster movies at number 4. Snatch – 2000 from Guy Ritchie.
Long Good Friday
Harold Shand played by the late Bob Hoskins, ran his London firm like a well-oiled machine. Owned a pub, a club and had other legit business interests. Bribed a few coppers and local council officials to keep everything sweet.
Life was good, Harold decides to expand and make connections with the American arm of the Mafia. Sadly while he’s visiting the States, things go a little awry back home, with another outfit trying to muscle in on his manor. One of his underlings takes it on his head to pay protection money, to the new mob but the guy charged with delivering the pay-off dips his hand in and helps himself to a few quid. Long Good Friday has everything that you’d expect shootings, bombs, double cross, the IRA. It was quite a busy long weekend.
Needless to say, the Americans turn up to visit, ready to invest heavily and move Harold into the Major League, just as bombs start to go off in his locality. Not prepared to lose face, he decides to find out who is behind all this aggro and take them on. If they want a war, they’ll get a war.
Good cast with Helen Mirren playing Harolds wife, Derek Thompson who went on to be one of the main stars of Casualty, Pierce Brosnan, Alan Ford who played the wonderful Bricktop in Snatch, Colin Freeman who played one of Harolds oldest, best friends, A very young Dexter Fletcher who went onto make his name in Lock Stock & 2 Smoking Barrels as Soap.
One of my favourite roles was P.H. Moriarty who played Razors, the hard, loyal no messing driver/minder. A natural he too was seen in Lock Stock, where he was no longer the sidekick, this time he was the crime boss as Hatchet Harry
Long Good Friday was one of the best films of 1980 and many of the cast went onwards and upwards from there. Comes in at number 3 out of the top 6
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Soap, Bacon, Eddy & Tom are 4 young lads who want to become rich overnight and decide to dip their toe in the murky underworld, through a game of cards that they are sure they’ll clean up at. Once they manage to get an invite, they’re allowed to send their card player down to the local boxing gym, where the game takes place.
Hatchet Harry (played by the wonderfully intimidating P.H. Moriarty) with his right-hand man Barry The Baptist (played by the legend Lenny McLean) wow what a great combination.
This was the film which made Guy Ritchie into a famous name. A Tarantino type blend of realistic characters, good music and interesting storyline, made Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels such a standout film.
Great names for the local faces, Nick The Greek, Hatchet Harry, Barry The Baptist, Dog ( played by Frank Harper, with Vinnie Jones as Big Chris the debt collector who likes to come out with his own words of wisdom.
So here we have Big Chris who turns up at the bar owned by JD (played by Sting) to explain his son has a huge debt and this is the way to pay it off;
Big Chris: I understand if this has come as a bit of a shock. But let me tell you how this can be resolved by you, a good father.
JD: Go on.
Big Chris: He likes your bar.
Big Chris: He wants your bar.
Big Chris: Do you want me to draw you a picture?
There’s plenty of action in this film, a great soundtrack, mishaps, changes in luck & fortune but it’s a fun film and has to be one everyone watches at some point. It shows how people can get involved far too easily in things that they’re out of their depth in, but also in a light-hearted way, how a change of luck can make all the difference.
Voice over by Allen Ford, this is one of the British gangster films of the 90s and beyond. This too was the film that put some actors names and faces on the map to bigger and better things. A few teamed back up in Guy Ritchie’s second of the British gangster movies Snatch.
Sadly though the tv series which followed, based on this I didn’t like, it was lacking quality.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – 1998 is runner-up of the best British gangster films.
Layer Cake (2004) is the winner, my number one choice of top British gangster films.
Directed by Matthew Vaughn who was the producer of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels comes in as my favourite topping the list of British gangster films. Great soundtrack, good storyline and some excellent characters make this a film I can watch time & time again.
Clarkie, Morty, Terry, Cody, Tammie – maybe the names aren’t as exotic as Lock Stock or Snatch, but the characters make up for that.
A high flying middleman involved in the drug trade is preparing to finish off his way of life, hand over the reigns to his co-workers and go live out in the sun, thanks to his million + that’s been laundered by his dodgy accountant – job done.
Job done until his boss up the chain demands one last job, a favour but not one you can really say no to. He wants a friends daughter tracking down and returning after she’d gone missing. Sounds simple enough……
This film reveals the different layers of criminals operating, from the local pushers, through to their suppliers. We see the loud crime boss, Mr Price (but you can call me Jimmy), who actually isn’t anywhere near as high up the tree as he thinks.
It’s not all guns and violence, it shows too of the money laundering type of crooks, who try to make everything look respectable.
We see an overseas connection involved, where the real bad boys come out of the shadows, sending their Top Boy across from the mainland to sort out the problem. When you hear them explained as people who were on the run and wanted for war crimes, it kind of makes you understand the real hierarchy in the criminal world. Who the players and wannabe gangsters are and who actually have the minerals to get the job done. This is what the term’ Layer Cake’ refers to, the levels or layers you need to climb to be the top of your profession.
From the cafe scene where Freddie is hospitalised, there’s a realism in this film. There’s the double cross, the payback, the police grasses, the bent coppers. Again this film was another that helped actors onwards and upwards, Tom Hardy and Daniel Craig are the obvious names that spring to mind, but Michael Gambon plays a good role as the multi-millionaire respectable looking, crook Eddie Temple. Mr Temple does have one of the most memorable passages in the film
“You’re born, you take shit. You get out in the world, you take more shit. You climb a little higher, you take less shit. Till one day you’re up in the rarefied atmosphere and you’ve forgotten what shit even looks like. Welcome to the layer cake son”
There were other films that came close to being included, The Krays from 1990 starring Gary Kemp, Martin Kemp & Billie Whitelaw. Although there are other films based on the Krays, none of those is good enough in my opinion.
Gangster No1, with Malcolm McDowell, a half decent movie, just not quite good enough.
Rocknrolla, the third Guy Ritchie film to get a mention. Despite having Tom Hardy, Idris Elba, and Gerald Butler in the cast, this doesn’t make the final 6.
A couple of Ray Winstone & Ian McShane movies, 44 Inch Chest (fairly average) and the much better Sexy Beast which was really brought to life by Ben Kingsley. Sexy Beast lost out to The Business by the toss of a coin.
We’d considered others such as Rise Of The Footsoldier, but again didn’t think these made the grade either.
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British gangster films, you can’t beat them. Here’s the Fat Lad’s top 6 British gangster movies, and other British crime films I like. You NEED British actors to play British villains, especially Londoners.