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I remembered this vividly from when it was on British television in 1988 and was very curious to see how well it holds up today (2010) when I watched the DVD set recently. It's even better than I remembered, but then its from the Euston Films stable who brought us canonical cop show The Sweeney as well as Trevor Preston's OUT, a moody gangland drama - thriller from 1978 so you'd expect quality.
The Fear follows Armani clad thug Carl Galton (played by Iain Glen) as he tries to increase his criminal empire in North London. Following a bar brawl, his younger brother dies, an older gangster is out of his way and Galton attempts to muscle in on two older gangsters, now respectable businessmen. These are Slater (Anthony Valentine, superb) and Klein (Dennis Lill). A sub plot involves a love triangle with Klein's wife Pat (Linda Marlowe). Another support actor with a long pedigree in British television is Jesse Birdsall as Marty, Carl's best friend. There's another great little subplot involving tensions underlying Carl and Marty's relationship...
Superb cinematography makes full use of a North London yet to become completely gentrified. Lots of moody shots of clubs, streets, canals, railway bridges, recognisable locations such as Islington's Upper Street, a pre Eurostar Kings Cross and The Grand Union Canal. To use venues like the London Apprentice or Jims's Piano bar, well known haunts of London's gay scene of the eighties, was a stroke of genius.
It captures the joyless mood of the Thatcher years so well. Galton's pretentious aspirations exemplified as he sits in an empty office waiting for the bailiffs to arrive. The red Porsche is parked outside but there's no money in the bank as his cheques bounce. Running on empty appearance is all that matters. What the eighties was so about...style and vacuity over any real substance or values.
For a crime drama, most of the violence is all the more effective by being, for the most part, implied. Glen's performance is spot on as an emotionally manipulative, twisted little psychopath tormenting his wife with mind games. Violence comes suddenly making it all the more shocking and unnerving when it does. Narcissism is alluded to throughout with numerous shots of Galton looking at himself in mirrors, or fastidiously adjusting his expensive designer clothes.
Casting Anthony Valentine as Slater, the Mr. Big, is a real treat, he is just superb and completely right for the part. His pretensions to being Lord of the Manor with a Roller parked on the drive of his mansion always and forever betrayed by his working class London accent.
The series is incredibly bold in its scope, with an epic quality to the climax taking place against the backdrop of a midsummer pagan festival. Through the shots of countryside, the interweaving of an industrial unrest subplot and themes of aspiration it becomes as much a meditation upon the nature of Englishness and the decline or otherwise of the English working classes. The Fear pulls together a noir style and sensibility with English shades of Jacobean tragedy to be one of the best British gangster series ever, one which is inexplicably and criminally under rated.
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