Some of my favourite names from the British acting circuit have gathered together in the latest film by Director Simon Rumley, Once Upon A Time In London, a dramatization (written by WIll Gilbey, Simon Rumley & Terry Stone ) of the violent reign of two of London’s most notorious gangsters, Billy Hill (played by Leo Gregory) and Jack ‘Spot’ Comer (played by Terry Stone), The film charts the journey of a criminal empire and focuses on the late 1930s and spans over a decade in this violent world. Also along for this brutal dramatization are Josh Myers (The Krays:Dead Man Walking), Geoff Bell (The Business), Jamie Forman ( Layer Cake), Doug Allen (The Guvnors), Andy Beckwith (Rise Of The Footsoldier 3), Roland Manookian (Riot),.JJ Hamlet (Tango One) and Holly Earl (from TVs Humans)
With this talented ensemble cast, how does the rest of the film fair up? Well it fairs up pretty well actually. In sort of a cross between Peaky Blinders, and The Krays (the 1990 Peter Medak version) , the film handles is period setting exceptionally well for what Im sure was a modest budget, the costume design is wonderfully varied, and the production design itself has been put together wonderfully The world of Once Upon A Time In London might not seem as smokey or dirty and grime ridden as BBCs Peaky Blinders, but who on earth goes into a film looking for authentic dirt and grime. I know I dont. I go into a film looking for a well made film (which I got), great performances (which I saw) and enough entertainment that I dont look at my watch or feel the need to pause the film so I can go and grab snacks ( for the record, I didnt look at my watch and waited until after the film had finished before I started snacking)
Whilst watching the film though, I couldn’t help wonder if there was a larger film within this one. Ill explain what I mean. At several points through the film, there are scenes that have no dialogue, they are montages of sorts, with a music track playing over where I can only feel, that dialogue and full scenes once lived. Now these scenes do work in the finished film, but I cant help wondering if at some point there was a longer cut of Once Upon A Time in London and due to some editing choices, or perhaps time restraints, that these scenes were condensed into these ‘montage’ scenes. Could there be a 3 hour epic version of Once Upon A Time In London living in a vault somewhere? If there is, I would love to see it as whilst I really did enjoy this near two hour version. The epic tale of Jack, Billy et all far outweighs this single film and would beg to find a way to expand into a large world.. Count me in! Bring it on! But lets get back to the film I just watched, rather than me second guessing and making wishes.
The two leads are spot on in their roles, with Leo Gregory adding yet another great role to his already wonderful CV. His performance as up and coming gangster Billy Hill begs for more scenes and the charismatic Billy works his way into the criminal underworld before feeling the need to rise up further than others perhaps would like him to. Whilst Billy is the smart, wise, and yet tough when he needs to be. I couldnt help wanting for more scenes of Billy and the view from his world but again, thats just me making wishes on a film I didnt make, so enough of that! The flip side (kinda) of Billy is Jack ‘Spot’ Comer (excellently played by Terry Stone) who tends to rule his ’empire’ with an iron fist and noise to effective results for the most. Terry must have had a blast making this film as a lot of the ‘explosive’ scenes do belong to Jack Spot and his volatile nature (Jacks’ not Terry’s) The differences between these two underworld figures (especially when they clash ) is very watchable and you cant help think about which ‘team’ you’d be on, be it Team Billy or Team Jack. I know which one I am not, but thats a secret.
Id highly recommend Once Upon A Time In London,as its a breath of fresh air in a UK film landscape that needs to take a short break from Ranger Rovers and Lap Dancing bars filled with cocaine tooting thugs, and take a trip back in time, to bring us some classic stories such as this one and with a final couple of scenes that go give great scope for an expansion of this ‘Once Upon A Time’ world, I hope this film does what it needs to and the filmmakers decide to take a trip back to this era (or just after) and bring us more historical crime dramas.
Released in UK Cinemas and Digital HD 19th April 2019