Inspired by a real-life criminal, Sky Max’s gripping new drama follows the rise of a poor immigrant kid who becomes an underworld kingpin. Here’s what we know about the series
By Chris Miller, Feature Writer
John Ibrahim is a notorious figure in Sydney. A nightclub owner in the famously seedy Kings Cross area, he’s been accused of numerous crimes including drug trafficking and collusion in police corruption. But he has not been convicted of any crime since an assault when he was a teenager, and remains free to conduct his business.
Ibrahim told his story in his 2017 memoir Last King Of The Cross – and now it’s been adapted into an explosive drama premiering this week on Sky Max.
It’s a high-class modern crime drama in the mould of equally dense, satisfying shows like Underbelly, Sons Of Anarchy and Animal Kingdom. Here’s what we know about this gripping drama.
1. Its Aussie crime drama credentials are impeccable
Callan Mulvey, who plays corrupt police detective Brian Crellan, was in the first season of Underbelly as well as the Aussie biker drama Bikie Wars: Brothers In Arms – as was Damian Walshe-Howling, who plays drug dealer turned videogame store owner Joey. Matthew Nable, who appears as enforcer “Big Tony”, was also in Bikie Wars and the fifth season of Underbelly.
Claude Jabbour, who portrays John’s older brother Sam Ibrahim, was in the miniseries Fat Tony & Co – the story of another notorious criminal, Tony Mokbel – as was Tony Nikolakopoulos, who plays a club owner known as, er, Fat George. So mean with the nicknames, these gangsters! And Kieran Darcy-Smith, one of Last King’s lead writers and directors, starred in the award-winning Aussie movie Animal Kingdom, on which the US TV drama of the same name was based.
2. There’s a big British star at the centre of it
Kings Cross kingpin Ezra Shipman – wealthy, smooth-talking, partial to a bit of extreme brutality – is played by Tim Roth. The London-born star is no stranger to onscreen violence, having collaborated repeatedly with director Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight), while he also played real-life serial killer John Christie in the BBC miniseries Rillington Place.
Shipman is a fictional character inspired by a number of Sydney ne’er-do-wells but primarily George Freeman, a casino owner who – like John Ibrahim – evaded prosecution despite his many links with organised crime.
3. … but it was supposed to be a different British star
Ian McShane was originally cast as Shipman, but the 80-year-old actor was forced to pull out shortly before filming for health reasons. After the menace he brought to roles such as Al Swearengen in Deadwood and Winston Scott in the John Wick movie series, we’d have loved to see his take on a Sydney gangster.
4. It stars a former soap opera bad boy
Ibrahim himself reportedly approved the casting of Lincoln Younes in the lead role, admiring both his looks and his talent. Did Younes’ role as small-town crim Casey Braxton, one of the River Boys gang, in almost 600 episodes of Home And Away have any bearing on his role in Last King Of The Cross? We like to think so.
5. It’s not the whole truth
While Last King Of The Cross is rooted in reality, it’s not clear how much of Ibrahim’s book is literally true, and there’s a disclaimer in the credits announcing that “some of the characters, names, business, incidents, locations and events have been fictionalised for dramatisation purposes”. Younes told the Sydney Morning Herald: “It’s not a biopic, I’m not playing him. There was an essence from his memoir that was the inspiration for the show.”
6. It’s an immigrant story
Early on we see John and Sam Ibrahim as boys, scavenging among the ruins created by Lebanon’s civil war in the late 1970s. When we meet the teenage John (played by Malek Alkoni), he’s accompanying his mother to apply for government aid. Last King Of The Cross makes it clear that crime offered one of the few ways out of poverty at the time, especially for immigrants. But at the same time, it doesn’t shy away from the glamour of the lifestyle and its appeal to many young men.
7. Some of the cast have a sporting pedigree
Matthew Nable (Big Tony) played rugby league for the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles and the London Broncos before turning to acting and appearing in series suich as The Twelve and movies including Riddick and Hacksaw Ridge. The multi-talented Nable also wrote the script for the eighth episode of Last King Of The Cross.
It feels like every Aussie TV show has a character called “Gibbo” and here Gibbo is played by Jake Ryan, a former member of the Australia national taekwondo team. Handy guy for a gangster to have around if things take a turn…
When is Sky Max’s Last King Of The Cross on TV?
Last King Of The Cross begins at 9pm on Thursday 18 May on Sky Showcase HD (CH 109) and Sky Max HD (CH 111). All 10 episodes will be available in On Demand.
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