Sexy Beast TV review: “Actually, a sexy beast of a series”
Sexy Beast TV review: the new series surprisingly manages to touch the verve and wit of the original film, with commendable class rage.
Sexy Beast, Paramount+ from 25th Jan
Well this is a nice surprise. The buzz has not been massive for this prequel to the much-loved Sexy Beast (2000), the film that launched the career of Jonathan Glazer (who’s just been nominated for an Oscar for Zone of Interest, even though it’s not even out yet), perhaps due to its presence on the still-mystifying-to-UK-audiences Paramount+. In fact, many of the early reviews have been outright hostile about the temerity of messing with such a renowned classic (alright, sorry, culture police). But actually, if taken on its own terms. this new 8-part series manages to get somewhere near the original’s verve and wit and intelligence, rising it a ways out of the usual cringey Brit gangster “fackin’ cahnt” fodder. Though there are plenty of “fackin’ cahnts” if that’s your bag.
So here we are with small time thieves Gal Dove (James McArdle, from Mare of Easttown, handling the young Ray Winstone role with appropriate rugged charm), and Don Logan (Emun Elliot, taking on the iconic part that Sir Ben Kingsley tore up, and doing a damn fine job of it, which will come as no surprise to fans of Guilt), who are doing decent business doing smash-and-grabs but could be doing much better, thinks Don’ big sister Cecilia (Tamsin Greig playing brilliantly against type, as an tough-as-hell underworld figure from whom Don has clearly learned his colourful way with words, “spunkbubble” and all). She hooks them up with Paul Kaye’s Stan, who works for the rising Mr Big of the underworld, Teddy Bass. Ian McShane played him in the film, but here Stephen Moyer takes over, and how: the former True Blood and The Gifted star, steals the show as the flamboyant but deadly Teddy, all reptilian smiles and subtle manipulations, which occasionally turn into not-so-subtle violence.
Teddy recruits Gal and Don into higher stakes, big money heists, showing them what they can have if they join him, by inviting them to his giant Freddie Mercury-style house party, complete with naked butlers and coke on platters. He declares, ‘Let’s face it boys, a faint heart never won fuck all.’
At the party, Gal starts a flirtation with adult film star (and wannabe director) Deedee (Sarah Greene); back at her place she asks, “what made you want to become a thief?”
Gal tells a story of how the Queen paid a visit to his housing estate when he was a kid, they dressed up the wasteland where they played football, then when the Queen exited, they ripped it all up again, “left it more of a shithole than it was before…I knew at that moment the straight life wasn’t for me. They can do what they like but we have to play by the rules…I can’t get the image out of my head, the way they just left us.”
In this manner the series sets its aims higher than your usual Lock, Stock… “cahnts for cahnts sake” self-indulgence. Just as Glazer did in the film, this series looks at the allure of the rich lifestyle concocted by a ruling class that ultimately wants to keep it for itself; Dove wants a fast track to it, like any thief, but he has a righteous rage too. Teddy sees this, and brings him into his world through not just the cash but the chance to bring down some Establishment figures at the top end of society.
Michael Caleo is the showrunner, writer and director, who was part of The Sopranos team back in the day, and is now applying that same sensibility to British gangsterdom.
What the series shows is the spin on the American dream that is would you see in the great US mafia behemoths, like The Godfather and Sopranos, where the gangsters do their own version of making it big in the Land of the Free; a twisted version, but one which echoes the core belief in the American way. There is no British Dream – because we all know there is an establishment that can’t be entered; we have a royal family, an entrenched upper class entwined with the political class. Anyone can be President in America, so they say; there is no such belief in Britain. So the way things play out in this series is not about rising to the top in the hope for respectability (as with Don Corleone), it’s more like rising up to lash out at anyone in charge as well as having a taste of cash. It’s a self-destructive move as much as an aspirational one, because really, there’s no hope. We see that played out here in the worlds that a few characters can navigate, namely Kaye’s, but that which will always remain separate. The sense of doom is a compelling one, giving the series a downbeat scuzz that beats the chirpy criminal romanticism of Ritchie/Mathew Vaughn et al.
On a more basic level, it’s all wound together nice and tight, with enough psychos and twists to keep things tense and eminently watchable.
The handling of Don’s obsessive rage, sparked by perceived slights like his milkshake taking too long in a café as much as disobedient crew members, is a delight, with Gal spending half his time trying to calm him down. Kaye has fun as the most well-connected man in crime, the go-between and man in the know, with links to the shady end of the upper class as well as street level, helping Teddy to target those higher up on the food chain. Then of course Deedee turns out to be not an easy person to become entangled with. Her porn world, surprise surprise, turns out to be pretty shady too with its own fair share of psychos.
Don’t believe the neggy folk, this is a straight-up sexy beast of a series. One with a class conscious rage beneath the sex, violence and laffs. Watch it, you cahnts…
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