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Bermondsey Tales: Fall of the Roman Empire review - dirty deeds done dirt cheap | reviews, news & interviews

Bermondsey Tales: Fall of the Roman Empire review - dirty deeds done dirt cheap

Bermondsey Tales: Fall of the Roman Empire review - dirty deeds done dirt cheap

Michael Head's gangland drama is a bit of a dog's breakfast

Michael Head as Henry Roman

What with the likes of Sexy Beast, Layer Cake, The Hatton Garden Job and the oeuvre of Guy Ritchie, the British gangster movie has become its own quaint little genre, a bit like an offshoot of the Ealing comedy with added thuggery, swearing and arcane London patois.

Bermondsey Tales: Fall of the Roman Empire is a slightly ramshackle version of the above, evidently made on a tight budget (with the assistance, bizarrely, of Middlesex University) and written, starring and directed by Michael Head.

As gangster patriarch George Scuderi (Frank Harper) tells us in a brief prologue to Bermondsey Tales, “the one thing all Londoners and criminals have got in common is we all love a good story,” which sets us up for the film’s rambling, discursive structure. Whether this has been borrowed from Chaucer, Boccaccio’s Decameron or the Brothers Grimm is a moot point.

It can be quite entertaining, as we veer off (for example) into "The Cabbie’s Tale", a little vignette about a dodgy black cab driver (Dean Kilbey) which comes around again as a punchline at the end of the movie. There’s also a droll cameo by John Hannah as The Postman, a hysterically paranoid Scotsman.

Or it can be a bit of a pain in the butt, like the wearisome episode when our sarf London crew go to meet some coke suppliers in Amsterdam and end up so wrecked on pills and booze that nobody can remember what really happened. The one about George’s ineffable coolness and villainous charm, illustrated when he holds up a jeweller’s shop with a shotgun while shmoozing Scarlett, the eyelash-fluttering counter assistant (Jade Bovingdon), is merely idiotic.

Threading its way through the detours and digressions is a twisty little story about the power struggle within the Roman crime family (it isn’t quite clear why Henry, son of George Scuderi, is now called Henry Roman, though it’s handy for the film’s title). George’s violent death has left Mick Roman (Gary Webster) in charge of the operation, and whether the succession is going to pass to his petulant son Jimmy (Charlie Clapham, pictured above with Alexandra Kate) or Henry (Michael Head) is a matter of some concern to all parties.

Suffice to say that the course of villainy rarely runs true, and there’s an almost #MeToo-ish mood to the final act as the crime clan’s womenfolk finally get to express a huge reservoir of pent-up emotions and resentment. Maisie Smith (pictured left with Linda Robson) brings some real venom to her portrayal of Jimmy’s cousin Chloe, while Alexandra Kate creates more of a revenge-is-a-dish-best-eaten-cold vibe as Jimmy’s wife Sara.

But Bermondsey is undermined by some basic structural flaws. It's never clear how much of a comedy this is supposed to be, and its larky approach to torture and beatings doesn’t feel quite right. Meanwhile, the episodic structure looks suspiciously like a substitute for a fully-formed plot. There are also some pretty dire fight sequences, as if they were shot in rehearsals and never replaced with the real thing. But at least Head was tactful enough to keep the running time to a modest 96 minutes.

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