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Gangster No. 1 (2000, Paul Bettany, Malcolm McDowell)



Ageing gangster Malcolm McDowell is out for a night at the boxing, quaffing champagne and smoking cigars. But then he hears that Freddie Mays (David Thewlis) is coming out of nick, and the scene shifts to the late ’60s London underworld. Paul Bettany plays the young McDowell, who admires the crime ‘family’ led by Mays (the near rhyme with Krays is intentional). Invited to join the gang, he becomes upset when Mays falls for Karen (Saffron Burrows), a nightclub singer who bitterly rejects him.

Then he discovers that rival gangster Lennie Taylor (Jamie Foreman) is planning to kill Mays and Karen. If he can kill Taylor and pin the murder on Mays, he can have Karen. And so he pays Taylor a visit… As the film returns to the present, the two old gangsters confront each other, truths are exchanged and a vicious brinkmanship threatens.

McGuigan’s second film, after the well-received The Acid House, is Shakespearean in its themes of love, violence and revenge but it is the ‘flashback’ sequence that works best, with Bettany outstanding as the amoral, calculating gangster, and excellent support from both Thewlis as the suave boss who manages to keep out of the clutches of the law, and Burrows as a calculating woman looking for a sugar-daddy. The film is undeniably violent – the murder of Taylor is seen from the victim’s point of view as an increasingly bloodied figure stands over him with hammer and chisel – but this is more than made up for by the acting and the ending, as two old men, once friends but now enemies, confront each other.

production details
UK | 103 minutes | 2000

Director: Paul McGuigan
Script: Johnny Ferguson,

Paul Bettany as Younger Gangster
Malcolm McDowell as Gangster 55
David Thewlis as Freddie Mays
Jamie Foreman as Lenny Taylor
Saffron Burrows as Karen
Kenneth Cranham as Tommy
Eddie Marsan as Eddie Miller
Andrew Lincoln as Maxie King
Doug Allen as Mad John
Razaaq Adoti as Roland
Johnny Harris as Derek
Cavan Clerkin as Billy
Anton Saunders as Trevor
Jack Pierce as Jack the Lad
Lorraine Stanley as Attacker’s Friend
David Kennedy as Fat Charlie