For those who like their gangsters smelling a little sweeter than the rest of this pungent bunch, try a whiff of this Ealing gem from the golden age of British comedy. OK, so it's a comedy, but that doesn't mean it can't offer insight into the gangster milieu of the time. An extremely young Alec Guinness, playing a mousey bank clerk, teams up with Stanley Holloway and a fairly young Sid James, to steal three million pounds in gold bullion and smuggle it out of London disguised as souvenir statues of the Eiffel Tower. Aside from the inspired storyline, this priceless piece of Brit cinema stands out for its excellent exposition of petty criminals, their foibles and how they relate to one another. And for those of you who need any further encouragement to see it, there's a flash of a very young Audrey Hepburn in the opening scene in Rio.
Most, if not all, of the current crop of movies will have turned to these infamous siblings of sadism as their models for East End skull-thuggery. Ronnie and Reggie Kray - the most influential and dangerous gangsters to ever emerge from London - are the subject of this gritty biopic that shies away from Sweeney-style drama to present the savage reality of the Krays' world. The ingenious casting of Spandau Ballet brothers Martin and Gary Kemp (bona fide Eastenders themselves) as the brothers-in-crime is pivotal to the success of the movie. Director Peter Medak opts not to make a catalogue of stabbings, garrotings and bloodletting, but explores the twisted mentality and the psychic connection between the twins to eerie effect. Throw in a rabid Steven Berkoff as rival gang lord George Cornell, and you've got a chilling glimpse into a world that may well be lying dormant instead of extinct...
Putting the Brit crime flick back on the map, Antonia Bird's vision of the contemporary London underworld combines the gangland atmosphere of The Long Good Friday with Tarantino style. No mere "heist-gone-wrong" movie, it's a sortie into the aggressive, brutal lives of the criminal underclass. Ray (Robert Carlyle) is a "face", a known criminal on the cops' usual suspects list. He and his mate Dave put together a team for a heist promising a catch of upwards of two million quid. But when the cash falls seriously short of the jackpot, it becomes obvious that there's a traitor in the group, forcing Ray to confront his past, flush out the killer and track down the missing loot back to the local nick. As the film traces the impact of the bungled job and the group tensions that evolve as a result, the Reservoir Dogs influence is strongly apparent. Bird forces us to stay with these hard men until we can identify every scar under the balaclava - not a pretty sight.
This is not a British film, but actor Tim Roth provides a fine excuse to mention the most significant gangster movie of the last decade, for his role as the fatally wounded policeman Mr Orange. Brazenly stealing ideas from Scorsese, Kubrick and Woo to name just a few, Tarantino has the final word on the "heist-gone-wrong" genre. High-voltage, intelligent, violent - be honest, you didn't believe he'd show the torturous ear scene in all its gory glory? - funny, dark, non-chronological, unique; this movie not only made Tarantino, but put our boy Roth on the Hollywood map too.
Ben Kingsley steals every scene he enters as the deranged, psychotic and downright terrifying gangster Don Logan, whose vituperative campaign of intimidation against Gary Dove (Ray Winstone) makes for uneasy but frequently hilarious viewing. Most disturbing of all - Kingsley claims the character was based upon his own grandmother. Able support from the likes of Ian McShane (who's since kept up the bad-guy image with TV series Deadwood), Amanda Redman and James Fox ensures there isn't a single weak link in this critically-acclaimed and stylish gangster flick.