TV: The Gentlemen (Season 1)

British filmmaker Guy Ritchie has a lengthy, impressive track record for delivering entertaining gangster movies. I’ve missed most of them, but his new Netflix series The Gentlemen­­­which spins off from a 2019 film of the same namehas rekindled my interest in his work. Set in the posh world of British high society, The Gentlemen stars Theo James as Edward Horniman, a UN peackeeper summoned back to his family estate when his father, the Duke of Halstead, falls ill. The Duke’s death leaves the estate in Edward’s capable hands, much to the consternation of his erratic older brother Freddie (Daniel Ings). But for Edward, being the primary heir to the Halstead fortune isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; as it turns out, the Duke was propping up the unwieldy Horniman empire with the aid of organized crime. Led by Susie Glass (Kaya Scodelario), the criminals are leveraging the Horniman family home toward a lucrative marijuana business. Edward’s first inclination is to extricate his family from the clutches of the illicit drug trade, but Freddie’s chaotic blunderingnot to mention Edward’s natural aptitude for conniving, and his undeniable chemistry with Susieonly seems to entangle the family further, consistently escalating their entanglement with sketchy, expensive, highly illegal business.

The Gentlemen is glitzy, opulent, sordid fun with bracing comic-thriller energy, nicely executed switchback plotting, and fine performances from a nicely cast ensemble of dicey antiheroes. James is in particularly good form in a charismatic lead performance that could enter him into the “next-James-Bond” discussion, and his castmatesIngs, Scodelario, Joely Richardson, Vinnie Jones, Jasmine Blackborow, and Michael Vu, among othersdraw a perfect fine line between cheerability and reprehensible shittiness. With antihero narratives being so played out at this point in TV history, The Gentlemen pulls it off, managing just the right mix of accessibility and critique of its shady dealers. The analysis isn’t particularly deep, as “eat the rich” scenarios go, but it doesn’t need to be to make for a good time. Occasionally, it feels derivative, recombining tonal and stylistic elements of recent ancestors; it’s reminiscent of everything from Leverage (in its con-game trickery) to White Lotus (in its operatic approach to the theme) to Ozark (in its self-unaware criminal heroes) to, very weirdly, Arrested Development (in its best-of-the-worst family member tries to save a family fortune). But it spins these components into a unique new configuration which, while not exactly ingenious, is clever, fun, and breathlessly diverting.

 

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