A Town Called Malice review – you don’t get more 1980s than this bloody crime drama
Is it Peaky Blinders but 50 years on with cockney accents? Is it Gangs of London but 50 years ago with sunshine? Is it McMafia but worth watching? The answer is yes. Sky’s new drama series A Town Called Malice is, fairly unabashedly, a little bit of every crime family thriller of the past few years, this time set – completely unabashedly – in the 1980s.
I mean, goodness, is it the 80s. The show and each of the eight episodes is named after an 80s pop hit (don’t write in to tell me that Daddy Cool was ackcherly late 70s. Why be that person, when we all have so little time on the planet?) and almost every scene is accompanied by one of the era’s other big chart tunes, sometimes even with lip-synching from a character – who might be better off kept behind the fourth wall, allowing the series to hang on to its internal logic and vestiges of believability.
There are lots of scenes. And split screens. And multi-coloured fades. And titles for big set pieces (The Battle of Bermondsey, The Battle of Escobells). Anyone old enough to remember the 1980s is likely to feel just a little bit fatigued at being so edited at, but that’s the youth of today for you.
A further note, before we move on, to anyone else d’un certain age – Martha Plimpton, of Goonies, River Phoenix’s girlfriend and Parenthood fame, plays the family matriarch, Mint Ma, and is no longer 17. She’s great and everything, but I thought you ought to know. Nothing is the 20 years ago you think it was any more.
Let us look at the plot. The Lord family once ruled south-east London with a rod of any-old-iron but, like the Wimpy, their domination is coming to an end. There are Peckham pretenders to the throne on the rise. Alas for Gene Lord (Jack Rowan), the baby and white sheep of the family trying to distance himself from their dealings, things come to a head just as he is making a rare visit home to introduce his sweet fiancee Cindy (Tahirah Sharif) to the clan. Before you can say “permed legwarmers” he has joined them in a junkyard rumble against those who would seek to steal the family dishonour; Cindy has revealed hidden, less sweet depths by mowing down the policeman about to arrest him; and love’s young recidivist dream is hightailing it to the Costa del Crime to stay with Uncle Tony (Dougray Scott) until the fuss blows over.
This is not a subtle programme (nor is Scott a subtle actor) and Tony is soon revealed to be exactly what you would expect: a shit-talking criminal, the mutation of whose lecherous attitude towards Cindy into something violently sinister is one of the most nastily convincing bits of the endeavour.
One bloody shoot-out later and Gene and Cindy have the beginnings of a property empire on their hands. News arrives that the policeman has died, effectively trapping the pair in Malaga unless Cindy wants to go down for murder. Mint Ma summons ’er boy ’ome but Gene refuses to leave his beloved. Whether their forcible repatriation can represent a new start (for them both, as Cindy obviously has A Past to rival anything the Lords can muster) forms the meat of the remaining episodes. You can take the boy out of his gangland family (albeit after bidding an unfortunate adios to the bad uncle sheltering you from the cops hunting your girlfriend) but can you take the gangland family out of the boy? Is your path in life determined by nature or nurture? And can you really tell, when the nurturers get a whiff of your new property development deal in Malaga and want a piece of the action too?
Murders, shootings, double-crossings, vigilante justice, wheelings, dealings, secrets, lies and revelations abound, accents slip and are regained, music blares, editors fall exhausted by the wayside …. The whole thing zips along without troubling the brain or trying to become more than the sum of its fun, noisy parts. A bit like the 80s, really.
In short, for those who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like. The rest of us may just need to keep taking the Sanatogen and wait for someone to wheel us into the shade for a nap. Forty winks, we used to call it. About 80 TikToks these days, if I’ve read my conversion charts right. Ah well. On we go. On we go.
• None A Town Called Malice aired on Sky Max and is on Now TV.