Birmingham is a melting pot of races and every community has a stake in the city's underworld. When John Kline is released from prison after serving a sentence for murder, he becomes the unwilling catalyst in a gang war.

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Cast

Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Maurice Colbourne ...
Philip Martin ...
Rawlinson
Tania Rogers ...
Dinah Carmichael
...
Elizabeth Cassidy ...
...
Paul Antrim ...
Ahmed Khalil ...
Paul Satvendar ...
Graeme Weston ...
Heavy
...
Tommy Rawlinson
Rolf Day ...
Comic
Mohammed Ashiq ...
Comic
Bunny Johnson ...
Rawlinson's accomplice
Larry Brown ...
Rawlinson's accomplice
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Birmingham is a melting pot of races and every community has a stake in the city's underworld. When John Kline is released from prison after serving a sentence for murder, he becomes the unwilling catalyst in a gang war.

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Comedy | Drama

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9 January 1975 (UK)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Trivia

This play achieved higher ratings than any previous Play for Today, leading the BBC to make it into a series. See more »

Connections

Followed by Gangsters (1976) See more »

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User Reviews

Interesting and tough film – not brilliant perhaps but interesting for what it does and when/where it did it
20 October 2008 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

John Kline is released early from prison and returns to his old Birmingham stomping ground to get the money he is owed so he can get straight out of town again and make a clean break. However his debtors are not pleased to see him and decide, instead of paying him off, they will give him what is coming to him in a different way. Meanwhile, in this new landscape, new gangs are active and new allegiances come into play and Kline finds himself in a power play with a man called Khan against would-be boss Rawlinson.

A few days before I watched this episode in the Play for Today series, I had seen "Our Day Out" in the same series and had it in my head that the series was the same as the occasional modern version, which screens in the middle of the afternoon and is mostly quite light, melodramatic stuff. Gangsters is not anything like that though and instead is a step into the diverse world of crime in Birmingham as it changes due to immigration and the mixing of cultures. Watching with modern eyes, I can't really imagine how this was received but I can guess that many aspects of the film would have been quite unique – not least of which the diverse range of races involved. Watching it now this is less of a factor, particularly with dramas such as The Wire offering such non-white casts (although the ratings for that piece of brilliance may suggest that audiences still don't warm to it all that easily) but it is still telling how gritty it is.

There aren't really any sympathetic characters in the main – we are essentially told a story about criminals, drug users, pushers, smugglers and strippers, while the lead character is just out of prison and is a murderer. Again, time has made this less shocking but I can understand why this would have stood out. Similar to The Wire, the characters are part of the story but of as much value is the world in which they live as the film explores the underworld of Birmingham that is a far cry from the white mothers putting down the Bullring for their veg and meat on a Saturday. Parts of the film appealed to me due to location but rather than being a "oh look there's whatever" use of location the film captures the feel of the city. It is a lot of concrete, a dearth of beauty and the presence of roads is a sign of a city that exists because people needed something in the middle of everywhere else. This aspect of the play is not really explored that well but you can see the potential for the series proper to explore the city and the criminal world in an extension of this one-off film. I will be watching the two seasons now, off the back of this, not least because, like The Wire, we are shown consequences for minor "decent" characters while the actual problems continue with slightly different faces.

Knowing Birmingham makes this film a little more interesting to me but also distracted a bit. Specifically a car chase heads into the city centre on the expressway and is minutes from Colmore Row when it suddenly goes into a burnt out suburb and then is magically back under spaghetti junction again. Aside from this niggle though, it is quite fun to see the city used as the backdrop for this gritty drama and the multicultural mix (or rather, tensions) of the time (and let's be honest, still in some areas) compliment the overall film. The performances are not as good as the use of the city. Colbourne is OK but writer Martin is a bit obvious. The use of non-white actors in lead roles was a good move but nobody really has a lot to work with. Rogers makes for an attractive character but I suspect there was an element of impact-awareness in her casting, getting black nudity and interracial relationships onto the screen to add controversy. Khalil, Jaffrey, Barber and others are recognisable faces (or at least would become so) but other than them being there they don't have a huge amount of character development to work with. In fairness though, there is not a lot of room for that within this film and I'm hoping that they greenlit a series from this film on the basis that there was room for that expansion.

Gangsters is not a brilliant film but it is an interesting one for what it did and when it did it. The characters are far from innocent and drugs, violence and the harm of innocents are all prominently displayed. The backdrop of a dreary Birmingham makes the seediness feel a lot more real and a lot less glamorous and offers potential even if the specific performances from the cast are only as good as their basic threads allow them to be. It is good enough and interesting enough to ensure that I will be checking out season 1 soon.


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