review

The Gentlemen review: Guy Ritchie’s spin-off series is a pointless dud

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
The Gentlemen is a spin-off series from Guy Ritchie's 2019 movie.
The Gentlemen is a spin-off series from Guy Ritchie's 2019 movie. Credit: Netflix

A quarter-century ago, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels debuted and with it, a fresh filmmaking talent in Guy Ritchie, a storyteller who revelled in the humour, violence and irreverence of cockney gangsters.

Twenty-five years on, Ritchie is still remaking Lock, Stock but without the purpose that once drove his vision. If Lock, Stock and then Snatch two years later was a counter to self-serious gangster movies, then what is the point of The Gentlemen?

That brash Ritchie style has become the status quo and he has been repeating the schtick ever since, even when he has genre-hopped into existing franchises of fairy tales (Aladdin), detective mysteries (Sherlock Holmes x 2) and historical epics (King Arthur).

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The last enjoyable Ritchie movie was the 2015 spy spoof The Man from UNCLE – at least it was playful and riffing on the excesses of a genre, instead of being the thing that needs to be parodied.

Into this creative drought, Ritchie has now spun-off his inexplicably popular 2019 caper The Gentlemen into a streaming series. The convoluted, smug and dreary movie starred Matthew McConaughey as an American cannabis boss in London, whose desired retirement sparks off a gang war as they scramble to take over his territory.

The series is set in the same world as the film but there are no crossover characters. The tagline is old money meets drug money, which introduces a different element into this world, one of inherited wealth.

The Gentlemen is a spin-off series from Guy Ritchie's 2019 movie.
The Gentlemen is a spin-off series from Guy Ritchie's 2019 movie. Credit: Netflix

Eddie Halstead (Theo James) is a UN peacekeeper who is recalled home when his father, a duke with a huge country estate, is on his deathbed. At the will reading, Eddie is surprised to learn that he, as the second-born spare, is to inherit his father’s fortune, land and titles.

Even more shocked is Freddy (Daniel Ings), his older brother who throws a massive tantrum. He was relying on that inheritance to rescue himself out of a little scrape entirely of his own making. And by little scrape, he means monumental cock-up.

Freddy owes a drug boss £8 million and if he doesn’t pay up by the end of the week, there will be much violence. Freddy is a particularly dumb idiot that lends to tired jokes about the aristocracy and inbreeding. And there’s the lunacy of naming one son Eddie and the other Freddy – one suspects Freddy’s intellectual deficiencies may be genetic.

The Gentlemen is a spin-off series from Guy Ritchie's 2019 movie.
Freddy, the great intellect. Credit: Netflix

His choices are chaos personified and it beggars belief that anyone would be so stupid and reckless. The character is meant to be manically entertaining but he’s actually so frustrating it’s repellent.

While trying to raise the funds, Eddie is approached by a straight-talking woman named Susie Glass (Kaya Scodelario) who informs him that she and her crime syndicate, including her imprisoned father Bobby (Ray Winstone), are running one of their marijuana grow houses on his estate. There had been an arrangement with his father.

The general conceit is Eddie gets pulled into this shady world of drug gangs – and has few moral qualms about it. What a shock, the rich are also crooked. Eddie’s old money likely isn’t any cleaner, probably dating back to the slave trade, colonial conquest or the exploitation of agrarian workers.

The Gentlemen is a spin-off series from Guy Ritchie's 2019 movie.
It’s not a Guy Ritchie gangster title without Vinnie Jones. Credit: Netflix

If that’s Ritchie’s point, he’s wholly uninterested in it. The convergence of old money and drug money is just an excuse to feature country houses with brocade curtains and gravel driveways. As an aside, one of James’ first roles is as the doomed Mr Pamuk on Downton Abbey.

The eight-episode format does not suit Ritchie. The pacing lags behind the manic kineticism of his features while it gives him even more space to indulge in his unnecessarily complicated plots. And Ritchie’s stylised violence is surprisingly pared back.

On the plus-side, at least it’s dropped the racism of the 2019 movie but that’s the least you could ask of it.

There will be plenty of Ritchie fans who will line up behind this version of The Gentlemen because they’re just buying what he’s selling. Everyone else? They’ve been shopping elsewhere for a while now.

The Gentlemen is on Netflix from Thursday, March 7

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