Ganging up on London
Gangs of London, Sky Atlantic, series one, directed by Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery, 2020, reviewed by AR Kneen
‘You could build an empire; you could be a king’ – so Finn Wallace (Colm Meaney) informs his young son Sean during a ‘hands on tutorial’. Finn is trying to get Sean to shoot a man buried up to his neck in the ground. This formative episode haunted Sean throughout his life; perhaps not least because he could not pull the trigger, and instead his younger brother Billy shot the man dead. But if a king does not inherit his title, then he has to obtain it via conquest – conquest of a land and of its people.
Gangs of London tells the story of the various immigrant groups who have come to London and of their struggles to attain power, profit and glory – largely through the heroin trade. The plot revolves around the Wallace family – headed by Finn Wallace, who immigrated to London from Ireland, aged 12. A major part of Finn’s crime business is laundering the profits from heroin, through property and construction, for a number of immigrant drug lords. There are the Albanians, headed by ruthless and murdering Luan. Mosi leads the Nigerians who specialise in machete attacks. Asif is the Pakistani crime boss and heroin-importer, the father of Nasir – Nasir eventually becoming the Mayor of London, after his father bankrolls his political campaign. Lale is a female Kurdish PKK member who imports heroin and runs the Kurdish criminal gang. The elderly reserved and bespectacled Li runs the Chinese. There are also the Welsh travellers, the leader of whom is Kinney Edwards, father of Danny, although the travellers are the one group not involved with the heroin trade.
Also heavily involved in Finn’s business are the Dumani family. Ed Dumani has been friends with Finn since childhood. Ed has 2 adult children: a son Alex and a daughter Shannon – her young child Danny being Ed’s grandson. The Wallaces and the Finns consider each other family. The other major characters in this tale include: Jevan, an Asian man close to ‘the investors’; and Elliot a black undercover policeman who infiltrates the Wallace family. There are not many white English characters, other than Mark who acts as an enforcer for the Wallaces, and Jim who is a low-level employee. The indigenous English are largely invisible in this tale, although they presumably consume the heroin, and suffer the consequences.
Most immigrants come to England because they believe that it will benefit them. Of course, most immigrants are not murderers or involved with trafficking heroin. However, the goal of benefiting oneself, particularly materially, is the main factor driving immigration – contrary to the media fairy tale of most immigrants ‘fleeing persecution/seeking asylum’. What if England is merely a place to use for one’s own benefit and the indigenous people therein to be used for one’s own ends? When Lale speaks of her home country and how she sells heroin to supply food, medicine, clothes and weapons for ‘her people’ – it is clear enough where her heart lies
For many immigrants, England is a land of riches to be taken; of wealthy and effete public-school boys like those in the investment house attacked by Mosi and his Nigerian gang. There is a striking image of a beautiful woman, the elegant, poised and alabaster-skinned English-rose Natalie – sipping expensive wine in a stately-home while a string quartet plays in the background. Natalie, with her gorgeous designer clothes and her perfectly-styled hair, introduces Alex to representatives of the rich and powerful. While Natalie introduces Alex to these important people, Jevan takes Ed into the grounds to explain various matters to him.
The majority of English people, self-evidently, do not have grounds, or violins playing in their living rooms. They are the ‘pawns’ in this series. When a young English guy is set alight and killed by Sean (Joe Cole), he implores, – ‘please don’t, I’m just a nobody’. This killing was supposedly to avenge the murder of Sean’s father Finn, the central event of the plot of this series. Yet the ‘nobody’ in question did not actually commit the murder but merely saw the getaway car. It transpires that Finn was actually murdered by a teenage Welsh traveller, Darren Edwards, with his close friend Ioan as his driver. Darren and Ioan were contracted to kill a man they believed to be ‘just some paedo’. Receiving the address by text, the 2 boys borrowed a car from their traveller site and drove to the address texted to them. Darren lets himself into the empty flat with the spare key left above the door and awaited the man’s arrival, then shot Finn in the head through the front door.
On one level, this is the story of a 67-year-old gangster with a property business laundering heroin money who was planning to run away with his mistress – but instead got murdered. After his death, it is discovered that money is being transferred from the business accounts. In the wake of his death, there is a power struggle and problems ensue because of the missing money. But Gangs of London also touches upon some social and political issues – including inter-generational factors, some intersecting with socio-economic issues. Several themes recur, notably that of kings versus pawns (‘nobodies’). Another recurrent theme is justifications given for wrong-doing. Finn considers abandoning his family (and possibly stealing the money and ordering the murder of a whole Albanian family) perfectly acceptable. Lale justified her actions as being for her people. There is also the issue of expectations. For many indigenous English people, most doors are closed, even if there are no signs on them – and they do not expect it to be otherwise. Many questions are left unresolved – series two will hopefully elucidate them.
Dr AR Kneen is the author of ‘Multiculturalism’. What Does it Mean? Uses and Abuses. Smokescreens and Mirrors, 2015