Friday, January 26, 2018


TV Review

by Brent Cutler

McMafia (2018), BBC1 and BBC iPlayer.
James Watkins. Starring: James Norton, David Strathairn, Juliet Rylance

An eight-part BBC Television drama appears to have captivated viewers and satisfied critics for the last few weeks. It seems to be part of a new tradition in BBC dramas in recent years that at least attempt to show some insight into how the world is run.
The story centres around the Godmans, a family of Jewish Russian émigrés; the key player in the family is Alex Godman, played by James Norton (Happy Valley, War and Peace, Life in Squares and Grantchester). A key feature of the drama is Godman’s desire on one hand to protect his business and luxury lifestyle whilst on the other not being completely sucked into a criminal underworld, which appears to dominate much of the world economy. I almost laughed out loud when Godman’s wife, played by Juliet Rylance, hosts a dinner promoting ethical capitalism. I expect tickets for such an event would cost considerably more than an evening at your local curry house.
The drama obviously has its villains – one of whom is Semiyon Kleiman, played by David Strathairn, an Israeli politician and crook. As a result, the drama, has already led to criticism from the pro-Zionist UK Lawyers for Israel group. It’s good to see those who lock up 16-year-old girls taking the moral high ground. The role of Kleiman is to explain to Godman, and more to the point the viewers, some of the workings of the world economy. In an early episode he poses the question: “Why is Burger King more successful than McDonalds?” He answers the question by simply replying “because there are more of them.”    
The drama spans at least three continents; with elements of the story in London, Eastern Europe, Israel, India and North America. Such a story requires quality directing – essentially the ability to keep viewers’ interest whilst at the same time enabling them to keep pace with a complex plot.
 Credit must therefore go to the programme’s director and co-writer James Watkins. McMafia is able to capture the technical intricacies of computer hacking as well as the sheer horror of human trafficking.
The drama shows an essentially corrupt world in which some individuals may, because of specific skills, come off better than others. I refer to a scene where an Indian computer hacker is reunited with his family after successfully carrying out some work for a local Mr Big. This contrasts with the young Russian woman forced into prostitution after being tricked into travelling to Egypt to work as a beautician.
With much of the drama in Eastern Europe it arguably vindicates those of us who pointed out that the counter-revolutions in those countries might not be such a good thing.  Instead of resulting in some kind of democratic Utopia they have simply led to a corrupt sewer of gangster capitalism. If you haven’t started watching the drama it is well worth taking advantage of the latest technology and catching up on iPlayer; and if you have it is well worth seeing the drama through to its conclusion.  

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