Brit gangsters hit sunny Spain in colourful 80s crime drama A Town Called Malice

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Making a splash with a poptastic 1980s soundtrack, colourful Cockney characters, and more neon lighting than a disco is new Brit gangster drama A Town Called Malice – streaming on Neon. Flicks writer (and born Cockney) Adam Fresco has a butchers (“Butcher’s” aka “Butcher’s Hook” ie “Look”) at its opening episodes, set on Spain’s infamous Costa del Crime.

Neon-soaked, bright, and moving at a relentless pace, reflecting its 1980s-era pop music soundtrack, A Town Called Malice wastes no time setting out its wares. London in the Eighties? Check. Notorious family of crooks? Check. Gangland combat? Check. Romeo and Juliet-style interracial love story? Yup. Poptastic 80s soundtrack? Heck, in the first few minutes alone I counted The Jam’s classic post-Punk anthem Going Underground, Foreigner’s soft-pop earworm ballad I Wanna Know What Love Is, and Boney M’s classic disco hit Ma Baker.

Throw in a colour palette that resembles Pop Art by way of a Baz Luhrmann movie, as seen through the lens of a Nicolas Winding Refn neon-drenched dream, and you have a drama that plays like a small-screen version of Guy Ritchie’s gangland comedy Snatch. Hell, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels star Jason Flemyng even plays the no-good patriarch Albert Lord, an aging Cockney geezer, professional criminal, and bitter old grouch, whose grim mug makes Harrison Ford’s trademark scowl seem positively jovial in comparison.

It’s Albert’s youngest son, Gene (Jack Rowan) who leads proceedings, falling perfectly hair-sprayed locks over 1980s Fila fashion trainers for Cindy (Tahirah Sharif), in an interracial Bonnie and Clyde romance. Cue some cool and clever CGI as the show’s title first appears, as a neon sign attached to a block of flats, its light fizzling out as the camera glides down to a carpark into which our lovestruck couple drive after their first meeting, the words “6 weeks later” daubed onto the concrete on which they park.

As Gene, Jack Rowan (who plays Danny in Brit TV drama Wreck, and appeared as Bonnie Gold in Peaky Blinders), makes an earnest leading man, all boyish charm and youthful energy as he struggles to make his mark as a member of the notorious Lord family firm. It’s probably no coincidence that he bears more than a passing resemblance to the lead singer of 80s Brit band, Tears For Fears.

As Cindy, Tahirah Sharif (star of TV dramas The Haunting of Bly Manor, and The Tower) lends her character a tough-as-nails streak of independence, and just enough mystery to hint at a young life scarred by violence. Whilst I was only privy to two episodes, it’s clear her character has dark secrets yet to be revealed, and that Jack has a hankering to stake his name in his family’s business, however brutal and relentless a route that may require. Following their initial meet-cute, the couple is soon revealed to have the makings of a powerful duo, with the savage resolve to climb high in the business of crime, and make a lasting mark as emperors of the Spanish and English underworlds.

No spoilers, but Jack and Cindy are in trouble less than ten minutes into the opening episode, and quickly find themselves hiding out with Jack’s Uncle Tony in Spain’s Costa del Sol, a region so popular amongst British criminals on the run from justice that, from the 1950s on, it became known as The Costa del Crime. Hence a run of classic Spanish-set Brit gangster flicks—from John Hurt and Tim Roth menacing Terrance Stamp in The Hit, to Ben Kingsley intimidating Ray Winstone in Sexy Beast.

As dodgy Uncle Tony, Scottish actor Dougray Scott (perhaps best known as the villain of John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II), is barely recognisable. His Cockney geezer London accent is full-on, as is his 80s syrup (“syrup and fig”—rhyming slang for wig), and giant Tom Selleck-as-Magnum moustache. Scott is clearly having a blast, and whilst his attempts at crooning Frank Sinatra-style fall flat (especially in terms of tune), his cock-sure strutting is ideal for a character that oozes BS by the bucket-load.

The supporting cast is full of reliable recognisable faces, from Martha Plimpton as Ma Lord, to Eliza Butterworth as Carly, and Leanne Lindsey (of UK shows Ripper Street and Line of Duty) as determined Detective Inspector Leanne Best, hot on the trail of the dodgy Lord crime family.

It’s no surprise the series is created by Nick Love, the writer and producer of post-Guy Ritchie British hip gangland dramas The Football Factory, The Business and the Ray Winstone-starring big screen update of classic hard-nosed UK TV cop drama The Sweeney.

Given Love’s past form, you might be forgiven for expecting A Town Called Malice to be an ultra-violent series. However, unlike Gareth Evans’ (The Raid) blood-soaked, bone-breaking Gangs of London, Love’s Malice is more akin to a musical take on crime series. Sure, nobody aside from Dougray Scott’s Uncle Jack bursts into song, but the 80s soundtrack, combined with the bright every-colour-in-the-rainbow production design and cinematography, lend the show the feel of a romantic musical. Think Elton John’s biopic Rocketman, only with more punch-ups, Cockney criminals, and sun-soaked Spanish setting.

I’ll be tuning into the custard and jelly (telly) next Harry Lime (time), for episode three, to follow the Barney Rubble (trouble) as both villains and heroes chase the bees and honey (money), and see who ends up either in the rusty nail (jail), or brown bread (dead).

Just two episodes in, A Town Called Malice has already whisked the viewer from the tough streets of Eighties London to the sun-kissed beaches of Tenerife. Along the way we’ve been introduced to a cast of intriguing characters—hard-as-nails villains, dodgy geezers, crooked cops, a doggedly dedicated detective, and a love-struck couple at the start of what looks likely to be a violent climb to the top of the precariously balanced, ever-wobbling, criminal ladder.