Film & TV

The Hit List – British Gangster Films

Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

With two films charting the Krays brothers’ riveting rise and fall being released this month, we’ve put together a list of the greatest British gangster films.

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. The four collide with drug dealers, gangsters, loan sharks and debt collectors in order to gain cash, weed and two antique shotguns. With a cast including great British actors such as 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) and Nick Moran (Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow P1 & 2), Lock Stock is comfortably one of the greatest British gangster films of all time.

Sexy Beast (2000)

Don Logan, played by Ben Kinglsey, is a brutal gangster, who recruits ‘retired’ safecracker Gal, played by Ray Winstone (The Sweeney, The Departed) 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, thrilling and both Kingsley and Winstone pull off astonishing performances.

Snatch (2000)

Another master piece by Ritchie: two plots unwind, one dealing with the search for a missing diamond and the other with a small-time boxing promoter who finds himself under the control of a brutal gangster. With an extremely similar style to Lock Stock, and another blockbuster cast, Ritchie pulls off yet another brilliant gangster film. Brad Pitt (Ocean’s Eleven, Fight Club) stars as an extremely convincing ‘pikey’.

Layer Cake (2004)

Packed with some of the finest British actors, Daniel Craig (Skyfall, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) , Michael Gambon (Harry Potter, Sleepy Hollow) and Tom Hardy (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) to name a few, Layer Cake follows a successful cocaine dealer who gets given a tough task from his boss on the eve of his planned early retirement: find Charlotte Ryder, the missing rich princess daughter of Jimmy’s old pal Edward, a powerful construction business player and gossip papers socialite. Complicating matters are two million pounds’ worth of Grade A ecstasy, a brutal neo-Nazi sect and a whole series of double crossings. With its impressive cast and disturbingly visceral violence, Layer Cake is a truly spellbinding thriller.

Rise of the Footsoldier (2007)

Rise of the Footsoldier follows the life and rise of Carlton Leach, tracking his meteoric ascension from a lucrative footballing career, through the ranks of organized crime, to the status of Britain’s most omnipotent drug lord. Rise of the Footsolider Part 2 is out this winter, courtesy of Signature Entertainment, and even grittier than the first. 

Scum (1979)

Alan Clarke’s drama, and Ray Winstone’s break-out lead performance, is brutal and depressing both in content and outlook on the British borstal system of the 70s. ‘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 gain his now more notable “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.

Gangster No.1 (2000)

Based on a play of the same title by Louis Mellis and David Scinto, Gangster No.1 follows the rise and fall of a particularly prominent and ruthless English gangster. Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, Iron Man) stars in the titular role – the jaw dropping and merciless enforcer, whilst David Thewlis (Harry Potter, War Horse) plays his influential boss and gang leader, Freddie Mays. Ruthless.

Bronson (2008)

Based on the true story and life of Charles Bronson, Britain’s most violent prisoner, Tom Hardy’s (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) performance is incomparable. Hardy plays Bronson with disturbing accuracy. With an intelligent, provocative and stylised approach, Bronson follows the metamorphosis of Mickey Peterson into Britain’s most dangerous prisoner, Charles Bronson. Other familiar faces include Amanda Burton (Silent Witness, Waterloo Road) and James Lance (Marie Antionette, Bel Ami).

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.

Rise of the Krays was released on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms on 31st August 2015, courtesy of Signature Entertainment.