Best British Gangster Movies

Talk of the Kray twins continues to swirl with the impending release of Brian Helgeland’s Legend starring Tom Hardy as both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, so Top 10 Films took the opportunity to check out the best British gangster movies.

To celebrate the August 31 release of Rise of the Krays on DVD and Blu-ray, which focuses on the early years of criminals Ronald and Reginald Kray, Top 10 Films takes a look at some of the best British gangster movies.

Directed by Zackary Adler, Rise of the Krays stars Kevin Leslie and Simon Cotton as the infamous villains. In 1961 Ronnie and Reggie Kray began a reign of terror that would endure and define London’s East End for years to come. From protection rackets to members clubs, from brutal street brawls to arson via blackmail extending to the Cabinet Office, the Krays rained red on anyone who crossed them.

Rise of the Krays pulls no punches in its bid to portray the true horror of this violent pair. Where other cameras pull away, the film maintains its nerve when showing how the twins became the most feared and respected villains in London. Led by Simon Cotton and Kevin Leslie, Rise of the Krays represents the true brutality of the notorious, nefarious brothers with sharp and bloody realism.

The film arrives on Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms from 31st August, 2015, courtesy of Signature Entertainment.

Great British Gangster Movies

Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Film, Guy RitchieLock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, directed by Guy Ritchie, is gripping, witty and extremely Cockney. The film follows four friends who are involved in a botched card game in London. The four collide with drug dealers, gangsters, loan sharks and debt collectors in order to gain cash, weed and two antique shotguns. With a cast including great British actors such as Jason Statham (The Expendables, The Transporter), Jason Flemyng (Clash of the Titans, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Dexter Fletcher (Kick-Ass, The Elephant Man) and Nick Moran (Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow P1 & 2), Lock Stock is comfortably one of the best British gangster movies of all time.

Snatch (2000)

snatch_movie_posterAnother master piece by Ritchie: two plots unwind, one dealing with the search for a missing diamond and the other with a small-time boxing promoter who gets himself under the control of a brutal gangster. With an extremely similar style to Lock Stock, and another blockbuster cast, Ritchie pulls off yet another brilliant gangster film. Brad Pitt (Ocean’s Eleven, Fight Club) stars as an extremely convincing ‘pikey’.

Sexy Beast (2000)

Don Logan, played by Ben Kinglsey, is a brutal gangster, who recruits ‘retired’ safecracker Gal, played by Ray Winstone (The Sweeney, The Departed) for one final job; however, it doesn’t end well for either of them. What ensues is a battle of wills between the two men, with Don intimidating, prodding, and manipulating his onetime friend to get what he wants, forever changing the lives of those around him in the process. It’s smart, it’s thrilling and both Kingsley and Winstone pull off astonishing performances.

Layer Cake (2004)

Packed with some of the greatest British actors, Daniel Craig (Skyfall, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) , Michael Gambon (Harry Potter, Sleepy Hollow) and Tom Hardy (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) to name a few, Layer Cake follows a successful cocaine dealer who gets given two tough tasks from his boss on the eve of his planned early retirement: find Charlotte Ryder, the missing rich princess daughter of Jimmy’s old pal Edward, a powerful construction business player and gossip papers socialite. Complicating matters are two million pounds’ worth of Grade A ecstasy, a brutal neo-Nazi sect and a whole series of double crossings. With its impressive cast and disturbingly visceral violence, Layer Cake is a truly spellbinding thriller.

Rise of The Footsoldier (2007)

Rise of the Footsoldier follows the life and rise of Carlton Leach, tracking his meteoric ascension from a lucrative footballing career, through the ranks of organized crime, to the status of Britain’s most omnipotent drug lord. Rise of the Footsolider Part 2 is out this winter, courtesy of Signature Entertainment, and even grittier than the first.

Scum (1979)

Alan Clarke’s drama, and Ray Winstone’s break-out lead performance, is brutal and depressing both in content and outlook on the British borstal system of the 70s. ‘Scum’ refers to the label slapped upon young-offender and reform-school inmate, Carlin (Winstone). When he isn’t being beaten up by the other boys, Ray is being beaten down by The System. He rebels against this treatment and becomes more vicious than any of his oppressors. Scum raised a young Winstone’s profile and helped him gain his now more notable “tough guy” persona. Who could forget the iconic scene in which Carlin places two snooker balls inside a sock and beats Banks and his cronies to within an inch of their lives!

Gangster No.1 (2000)

Based on a play of the same title by Louis Mellis and David Scinto, Gangster No.1 follows the rise and falls of a particularly prominent and ruthless English gangster. Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, Iron Man) stars in the titular role- the jaw dropping and merciless enforcer whilst David Thewlis (Harry Potter, War Horse) plays his influential boss and gang leader, Freddie Mays. Ruthless.

Bronson (2008)

Based on the true story and life of Charles Bronson, Britain’s most violent prisoner, Tom Hardy’s (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) performance is incomparable. Hardy plays Bronson with disturbing accuracy. With an intelligent, provocative and stylised approach, Bronson follows the metamorphosis of Mickey Peterson into Britain’s most dangerous prisoner, Charles Bronson. Other familiar faces include Amanda Burton (Silent Witness, Waterloo Road) and James Lance (Marie Antionette, Bel Ami).

Football Factory (2004)

Testosterone and football merge in this violent portrayal of middle-class England in Nick Love’s adrenaline charged and sexually charged adaptation of the John King novel. The film has excellent performances including Danny Dyer (Severance, The Business), Frank Harper (In the Name of the Father, This is England) and Tamer Hassan. (Kick Ass, Layer Cake). Shot in documentary style with the energy and vibrancy of handheld, The Football Factory is frighteningly real yet full of painful humour as the four characters’ extreme thoughts and actions unfold before us.

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  1. Avatar
    jackdeth72 Reply

    Great selections and dissertations!

    I’d go even more Old School. With the Spandau Ballet, Kemp twins and Billie Whitelaw as their “Mother from Hell!” in ‘The Krays’ from 1990.

    Followed closely by ‘The Long Good friday’ with Bob Hoskins. Helem Mirren. A young Dexter Fletcher and “Hatchet” Harry from ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrrels’ in ‘The Long Good Friday’ from 1980. And the original Michael Caine, ‘Get Carter’ from
    1971.

    Can’t wait to catch Tom Hardy as both Kray brothers in ‘Legend’!

  2. Avatar
    Mark F Reply

    Interesting list …

    Not sure I’d have Scum in here as it was not really about gangsters; plus I think it was originally made for TV.

    I agree with jackdeth72 that Get Carter should have been a contender.

    Another definite omission is Nic Roeg/Donald Cammel’s Performance with Mick Jagger and James Fox, where the London underworld is dominated by a bunch of homosexual thugs.

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