I’m not sure if there is something in the filmic waters around this time of year, but late December/early January always seems to see a host of British gangster flicks flood the home entertainment shelves.
Just a look at the releases over the past week shows we have Eastenders new-boy Danny Dyer “back to his best” in Vendetta, as well as a totally unwarranted sequel in the shape of Essex Boys 2: Retribution.
Joining this crowded marketplace is Ray Winstone-starrer Lords Of London – or so you’d think if you take a gander at the DVD sleeve.
But the truth is that far from being a Sweeney-esque, obscenity-laced crime caper on the streets of the good capital (as the image of a glowering Winstone clutching a gun would suggest), Lords Of London goes a bit beyond that.
For starters, the vast majority of the film is set in a sleepy Italian village, Winstone is a mere side character (only seen in flashback) and far more time is spent on mood-setting and talk of love, loss and the meaning of life than any ball-breaking action.
The brutality is still there (albeit in very small doses), and there is plenty of foul-mouthed antics if that is your thing, but Lords Of London really requires the viewer to know what they are letting themselves in for.
After a dreamy, blurred opening sequence that sees London criminal Tony (Glen Murphy) gunned down in a busy nightclub, the same gangster awakes to find himself in a run-down shack on an Italian hillside, with no idea how he got there.
Seemingly unable to leave, or make any form of communication with the world at large, Tony is forced to walk the streets in his blood-soaked shirt, eager to get to the bottom of just where he is – and for what reason.
Slowly but surely, through a series of flashbacks, we see Tony acting out his Mr Big role on the streets of London, as well as further flashbacks taking us back to Tony’s childhood, where he was seen as an unwarranted accessory to gangster dad Terry (Winstone).
It all connects with where Tony is now, and it seems pretty obvious from the get-go just where he is, and who the people are he is now surrounded by.
But first-time director Antonio Simoncini elects to take the drawn-out route, with the film meandering along, much in line with the laid-back, retro Italian landscapes on display.
Just when you wonder where exactly things are going, the film draws to a conclusion with some emotional heft, leaving you pondering about what you have seen – in a good way.
Murphy is solid in the lead, a canny mix of world-weariness and simmering anger, but with just enough humanity to make him a character you end up rooting for.
He is given solid support by Giovanni Capalbo as aging café owner Francesco, as well as the eye-catching Serena Iansiti as female lead Margarita.
I’m just about going to give the film a thumbs-up, mainly due to the fact that it detours from the usual wannabe-gangster bilge that is often served up – hardly surprising when you consider the film’s original title was Lost In Italy.
And it is no bad thing that Lords Of London (as it is now) is very much a rainy Sunday afternoon think-piece, rather than a beer-and-curry Friday night macho-fest.