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Top 10 British Gangster Films

3: Performance (1970)
Best British Gangster Films

Weird, unsettling and transgressive, more than any other film in this countdown, Performance begs the question: how did that get made? The answer lies with Warner Bros. deciding a Mick Jagger flick would likely ring up cinema tills like A Hard Day’s Night, and duly hiring the odd couple of respected DoP Nicholas Roeg and diabolist dabbler Donald Cammell to co-direct it.

The studio was appalled by the completed film, with one executive’s wife famously vomiting on her husband at a preview screening. She wasn’t the only one who was unimpressed; after his band-mate Jagger had an on-set affair with his then-inamorata Anita Pallenberg, Keith Richards not only refused to contribute to the soundtrack album but also declared Cammell the “most destructive little turd I’ve ever met”.

2: Get Carter (1971)
Top British Gangster Movies

By the time of Get Carter, Michael Caine had established himself as leader of the pack of new male stars to light up ’60s British cinema – ahead of Finney, Reed, his ex-flatmate Terence Stamp, and even Connery, who was about to make a first Bond comeback having floundered in his non-007 roles.

Not just leader, mind; the former Maurice Micklewhite was also joker in that pack – the light-hearted lad to contrast with all those angry young men. Meaning that audiences were entirely unprepared for Get Carter, the brutally bleak feature debut from Mike Hodges (whose follow-up flick, Pulp, also stars Caine and is probably even better).

Jack Carter has as little in common with the lovable rogue characters Caine portrayed in Alfie and The Italian Job as Michael Bay does with the virtue we call modesty. Rather, Caine’s Carter is a taciturn bastard, a living bludgeon who smashes into the schemes of John Osborne’s menacingly gentile crime-boss, and who tosses out-of-shape big men off multi-storeys.

1: The Long Good Friday (1980)
Best British Gangster Movies

It’s got one of the best themes of all time, courtesy of prog-rock twiddler Francis Monkman. It’s more quotable than the bastard offspring of Anchorman and Back to the Future. And there’s depth under the surface too, with the crisis faced by Harold Shand (Bob Hoskins) being bound up with the capitalist rebirth of London Docklands in the ’80s.

An ornery bullmastiff squeezed into a too-small suit, in many ways Harold is the stereotypical old school thug straining for respectability. Yet… at the same time… of all the souls we have encountered in this Top 10 countdown… his is the most… human (hey, Shatner! Thanks for the end-line, man!). R.I.P. Bob.

Honourable Mentions:
Layer Cake (2004), Down Terrace (2009), The Business (2005), Rise of the Footsoldier (2007)

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  • Sheridan Passell said
    Sheridan Passell

    Watched ‘The Long Good Friday’ for the first time last night, brilliant movie. Subtle, intelligent, great plot, amazing performance from Bob Hoskins.

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  • ChrisG said

    What about Rise of The Foot Soldier? Not sure if you consider it a Gangsta Movie but I thought it was a great British movie.

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