Gangster No.1 | 2000
Sharp-as-a-spike and strangely off-kilter London crimeworld pic, following the rise of an unnamed Gangster. There’s a British puritanical streak which likes to equate the sybaritic luxury of the posh Mayfair district with criminality, neatly summed up in the opening scene as the older Gangster 55 (Malcolm McDowell) almost drinks a flute of pee-contaminated champagne in the luxurious toilets of the Park Lane Hotel, Piccadilly, W1.
The glamorously deco hotel appears in two Neil Jordan films – Mona Lisa and his adaptation of Graham Greene’s The End Of The Affair – as well as appearing as a 'Parisian' department store in The Danish Girl, a restaurant and a beauty parlour in The Golden Compass, as an ocean liner in the 2008 film of Brideshead Revisited, and as the ‘Zig Zag Club’ in legendary Madonna-Sean Penn turkey, Shanghai Surprise.
The boxing match he’s attending, by the way, was filmed on a studio set.
Sharp-suited Freddie Mays, the ‘Butcher of Mayfair’ (David Thewlis), lives in Shakespeare Tower, one of the three high-rises forming the Barbican complex, Silk Street, EC2, until he’s ousted by his young nemesis. Apart from gangster penthouses, the complex also houses the largest multi-arts complex in Europe, with theatres, concert hall, and cinema.
The steps, where Gangster in his younger incarnation (Paul Bettany) drops a taxi onto a recalcitrant debtor to impress Freddie Mays, are regularly seen as a place of danger in films such as Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, Alfonso Cuarón’s adaptation of PD James’s Children Of Men and Face. They can be found leading up to the railway bridge on Pedley Street, off Brick Lane in London’s East End, having thankfully survived renovation of the area.
Corbridge Crescent, on the Regent’s Canal north of Cambridge Heath Station, is the site of Freddie Mays’ club, torched by the goons of arch-enemy Lennie Taylor (Jamie Foreman). Another grungy-looking spot, in the shadow of the gasometers, it’s the site of the safe house in Tomas Alfredson’s 2011 film of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and it’s under the canal bridge that Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson enjoy a brief sexual liaison in David Cronenberg’s Spider.
On Boundary Passage at Boundary Street, behind Shoreditch High Street, is Lennie’s less than salubrious bare-bricked drinking club where he meets up with Freddie. For the film, the passage was blocked off with a fake dead end to mask the High Street. In the years since the film was made, the location has had a serious move upmarket.
The theme of blood and butchery is carried through at the bar in which Gangster 55 discovers that Karen (Saffron Burrows) has survived a murder attempt. It’s the Cock Tavern, East Poultry Avenue, in Smithfield Meat Market, a stone’s throw from the Barbican. A simple door leads down to the extensive basement pub beneath the market, one of those establishments which had an extended license to allow market porters to drink at all hours – all you needed for that early morning refresher was a nice blood-spattered white coat. There’s a restaurant and café featuring an all-day breakfast and the biggest steaks in London (you’d expect nothing less from Smithfield).
The West End’s Covent Garden, in the days when it was a fruit and veg market, also benefitted from similarly lax licensing hours, until it became gentrified in the 70s. Smithfield stands in for the old ‘Covent Garden’ in Richard Attenborough’s 1992 biopic Chaplin, with Robert Downey Jr.
And it’s back to Mayfair – not far away from the Park Lane Hotel – where 38 Hill Street, at Waverton Street, became the upscale club outside which Freddie Mays is bloodily gunned down.