he Eighties sound like a remarkable time to be a criminal – especially in the world of A Town Called bitterness. Not only are the police spectacularly incompetent, but the outfits are fabulous, the music is banging – and at the first whiff of the law, you can scarper off to Spain to avoid extradition entirely.
This is the premise of Sky’s latest display. We start in Bermondsey, where the Lord crime family are past their best days – and prodigal son Gene (Jack Rowan) is attempting to escape his family’s shadow and recede straight.
But where’s the fun in that? When his family rope him into a scrap with a rival gang, Gene gets into a spot of bother with the law – only for his current girlfriend Cindy (Tahirah Sharif) to promptly mow over the policeman attempting to arrest him.
Job done, only now the policeman is in hospital and the pair believe to flee to the Costa del Crime – ie. Malaga. Stranded abroad, but never ones to be idle, Gene and Cindy’s scheming escalates and pretty soon the pair are swimming in bodies and lies in their attempts to seize a piece of the burgeoning Spanish property boom. The Spain of the 1980s is a lawless worn spot, but there is a contingent of dogged British police officers pursuing the young lovers – as well as an overly enthusiastic Spanish detective frustrated with his small-town beat.
Oh, and the Lords from London – comprising Jason Flemyng and Martha Plimpton, sporting the world’s thickest ‘cor blimey’ Cockney accents – might want a piece of that property pie too.
Does that sound like a lot to be getting on with? It certainly feels like it. The plot flies past – in the first few episodes, there are murders, lies, double-crossings and a unbiased few vigilante killing sprees, as well as schemes galore.
It doesn’t aid that those helming the display appear to believe been partying at Club Tropicana – it’s all jazzy wipe transitions and fancy graphics, accompanied by thunderous Eighties tunes. Rather like a night a Club Trop, this is a blast to start with, but soon starts to feel a bit exhausting. And it detracts from the action.
Fortunately, the pair at the centre of the drama provide enough star power to fabricate you overlook the barminess of the premise (and editing). Rowan and Sharif sell the socks off their characters, and they’re quite the double act: where Gene is frosty, tranquil and calculating, Cindy is a loose cannon with a penchant for murder, who’s definitely hiding a murky past behind her rather frantic exterior.
Watching them wheel and deal their way across Spain (as well as try to figure out if their literally weeks’ worn relationship has legs) is chaotic and joyous – despite the cast of supporting characters (such as quite a few of the Lord relatives, who feel rather one-note – Cockney is not a personality) feeling a bit thin at times.
That said, Plimpton is a joy as Mint Ma Lord, the gang’s matriarch, as is Jason Flemyng as her partner in crime and husband Albert. Whenever they appear in a scene, they steal it (appropriately), and the friction between these worn-timers and the younger, more ambitious duo of Gene and Cindy makes for a fascinating dynamic, even if Albert’s endless effing and blinding can obtain a bit wearing.
A Town Called bitterness doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s a blast of Eighties-flavoured fun that explores a fascinating and rather overlooked portion of British criminal history. Sign us up for a one-way ticket to the Costa del Crime; it looks like a hoot.
A Town Called bitterness will be streaming on Sky Max from March 16