Netflix is going to raise our rates from $8 to $10 a month in the US, but they aren’t the only gangsters on the online streaming platform.
Gangsters – Faces of the Underworld is a must-see show if you have any interest in the obscure world of organized crime. Bernard O’Mahoney (Bernie), himself an ex-gangster and one of the UK’s Essex Boys, obtains unprecedented access to the underbelly of British society. The title of the series refers to gangsters as the recognizable “Faces” of the underworld, criminals who normal folk try desperately to avoid pissing off. If you thought all Brits were foppish pretty boys with ridiculously sexy accents, prepare to have your worldview punched square in the jaw and kicked in the goolies while you’re down.
Netflix has both complete seasons of Gangsters – Faces of the Underworld. Typical of British TV, there are only six episodes in the first season and eight in the second. The show is essentially two interweaved documentaries.
Season 1: Gangsters – Faces of the Underworld
Season 1 introduces us to key figures in the British organized crime world. These criminals first appeared in the aftermath of World War II in the 1950’s. We travel from Glasgow, Scotland where we meet quietly spoken Scot ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser, down to London to learn the inside story of the Kray Twins, one of Britain’s most famous criminal pairings, then back up to Newcastle to meet a gangster who’d rip the eye patch of Nick Fury if he met him and spit in his eye.
The fifth episode focuses on Danny Woollard and Angelo ‘Festus’ Hayman, who carried out the Snow Hill Robbery in 1995. Hearing the casual way in which Mr. Woollard took a police officer hostage at gunpoint and forced him to drive Formula One style away from the robbery is chilling.
In the last episode of the series, Bernie tried to answer the age-old question, ‘Does crime pay?’ Spoiler alert – it does for the short term, but eventually, the police or your rivals in the criminal underworld catch up with you – and it’s going to hurt when they do.
Season 2: More Gangsters, More Problems
If you haven’t had your fill of binge watching gangsters get brutally honest about their shenanigans in front of Bernie’s camera, pull up a Newkie Brown and sit your bum down in front of the telly for another round of drinks and gangster interviews with Season 2.
From Liverpool, we meet Stephen French who rivals nicknamed “The Devil” and waged a one man war against Liverpool’s drug dealers. Don’t worry, he’s more gangster than hero. One of the most compelling stories in the entire series belongs to Joe Egan, an Irish immigrant to England to had to learn to box to defend himself. The man has had the definition of a hard life and was made hard by it. Big Joe, as he’s affectionately known, became a sparring partner for World Heavyweight Mike Tyson before later opening a pub in Birmingham and finding himself on the wrong side of a gangland fracas. If somebody doesn’t turn this into a Hollywood movie, I’ll be surprised. His story, told in a smooth Irish accent, is incredibly compelling.
The series also manages to interview one of the Birmingham Six, a group of Irish men who were detained by police during the troubles in Britain in the 1970’s and were systematically beaten and tortured at a police station until one of them finally confessed. Imprisoned for years by phony testimony and slipshod evidence, this harrowing story explains how the British police knew they had the wrong men but political expediency won out over justice. Simply shocking. Shocking.
If you like the idea of spending 7 hours binge-watching aging brutish British men talking about a bit of the old ultraviolence of the good, old days, you’ve got your fix right here.
Warning: May be difficult for some Americans to understand without subtitles