Following a week of family films, period dramas and festive TV, the BBC mixed things up on New Year’s Day with the introduction of new gangster drama, McMafia, created by Hossein Amini and directed by James Watkins (most well known for The Woman in Black.) With the absence of popular dramas Doctor Who and Sherlock this year, the BBC seem to have invested greatly in this new eight-part drama which certainly has not disappointed so far.
McMafia tells the story of a wealthy Russian family living in England, following their exile from Moscow, and is centred around the son of the family, Alex Godman – a privately educated young banker, played by James Norton. The first episode immediately introduces us to the world of the corporate gangster. Having attempted to escape the shadow of his family’s criminal past in the Russian mafia, Alex slips into the dangerous underworld and true to the technology of the modern age, begins to avenge the recent death of his uncle from behind the laptop screen of his investment company in London.
Now, halfway through the series, McMafia has received mixed reviews. It has been deemed suspenseful and exciting by some, with many viewing Norton’s performance as an audition for the role of James Bond following Daniel Craig’s retirement from the role. There are many scenes reminiscent of Bond right from the start of the series, from Norton’s portrayal of the protagonist, to even the camera angles which are used. There is no doubt that McMafia is high-paced and exciting, just like the Bond films, but there is doubt as to whether Norton really has the charisma to pull off 007.
In the first few weeks of the drama being aired, criticism has come from all angles. Despite being based on Misha Glenny’s non-fiction book, McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld, the creators of the drama have been accused of adopting falsified stereotypes of Russian businessmen. The Russian Embassy’s Twitter account declared that the drama “depicts Britain as a playground for Russian gangsters” and emphasised that this is certainly not true. To add to this, the BBC has also been criticised from Jewish groups due to their negative portrayal of Israeli businessman, Semiyon Kleiman, who is introduced in the first episode as Alex’s gateway to the world of gangsters.
McMafia is far more corporate than gangster in the early scenes, but it does not fail to live up to our high-profile gangster stereotypes, flitting between London, Tel Aviv and Moscow and ending the first episode with a very extravagant party in the Palace of Versailles. The BBC have clearly set aside a great budget for this new drama and only good things can be expected in the remainder of the series.