Magazine article The Spectator

Television: McMafia

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: McMafia

Article excerpt

My third most fervent New Year wish -- just after Litecoin goes to £20,000 and Jacob Rees-Mogg becomes PM -- is for the BBC to retire to its study with its service pistol and a bottle of whisky and finally do the decent thing.

After all, as lots of people are beginning to notice, when you spend 40 per cent of your viewing time watching your £79-a-year Amazon Prime, and another 40 per cent on £96-a-year Netflix, your compulsory £145.50 licence fee starts to look like a lot of money to pay for the remaining 20 per cent's worth of diversity outreach, anti-Brexit whining and green propaganda.

That's why I was so very disappointed by the BBC's first big New Year offering. McMafia (Tuesdays) is so brilliant that it almost disproves my point. It's at least as well acted, suspenseful and sexy to look at as The Night Manager was. So far, it doesn't look remotely PC. And, unlike its similarly classy, high-budget predecessor, it has the massive bonus of not being burdened by John le Carré's weird, cartoonish, out-of-date geopolitics.

Instead, it's loosely adapted from a non-fiction work about the international drugs trade by investigative journalist Misha Glenny. Screenwriters Hossein Amini and James Watkins (who also directs) have used this to lend verisimilitude to a thrilling drama about a handsome, anglicised, public school-educated Russian unable to escape his family's shady oligarch past.

As in all the best adventure yarns -- from Lord of the Rings to The Thirty-Nine Steps to Star Wars -- our hero, Alex Godman (a perfectly cast James Norton), is an ordinary-ish chap forced by extreme, unexpected circumstances to do extraordinary things. By inclination he is a respectable investment manager who has taken especial care to purge his past by putting together a fund untainted by anything Russian or otherwise dodgy. But by birthright -- not unlike Michael Corleone in The Godfather -- he is a ruthless, scheming master criminal. At least, let's hope he is: otherwise, no way is he going to survive the next seven episodes.

What really impresses me so far about the series, after one episode, is its assurance, its restraint and its air of authenticity. Though the bursts of violence, when they come, are shocking, visceral and exciting, though the locations -- Croatia, Qatar, Mumbai, Prague, Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Cairo, etc. …

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