Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Catch Up TV... Missed the TV Moment Everyone's Talking about? Alastair McKay Is Gripped by the Twists and Turns of the Underworld in the New BBC Series McMafia

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Catch Up TV... Missed the TV Moment Everyone's Talking about? Alastair McKay Is Gripped by the Twists and Turns of the Underworld in the New BBC Series McMafia

Article excerpt

Byline: Alastair McKay

IN THE Misha Glenny book that inspired the TV series, the term "McMafia" was taken from a description of the way the Chechen mafia worked in Moscow. Essentially, they allowed other gangs of criminals in other locations to market themselves as Chechen, as long as they paid for the name and maintained the standards of intimidation for which the parent organisation was known. In adapting Glenny's book for television, screenwriters Hoss Amini and James Watkins have gone further, adding the manners of two other influential franchises The Godfather and James Bond to the mix.

In truth, McMafia (BBC iPlayer) owes more to The Godfather. The hero, a privately educated Russian who has assumed English manners, is called Alex Godman, a sly nod to the fact that however much he wants to stay out of the family business, he is destined to be dragged back into it. True, there are any number of glamorous shindigs in international locations, and Alex ( James Norton) does look very good in a bow tie, but he also turns down a martini at a cocktail party, leaving the way clear for his moral descent. "I'm a banker, not a gangster," he tells Semiyon Kleiman (David Strathairn), the corrupt Israeli politician and businessman who is trying to recruit him to the cause. "Moving money is your weapon," replies Kleiman.

Kleiman, for a while at least, is an ambiguous figure, and it's not immediately clear whether he is truly terrible or just motivated by selfish greed. (The ramp between these two sinkholes is very short). Alex's father, Dimitri (Aleksey Serebryakov), is a shambling wreck whose exile in London has been reduced to feeding swans in the park and collapsing in a vodka stupor while listening to Status Quo. Wealth, for him, is not glamorous. The rival Russian Mob boss Vadim Kalyagin (Merab Ninidze) is straightforwardly malign but he likes dogs, up to a point. …

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