Solid and interesting docu-drama despite the debt owed to Life on Mars
In 1970's London violent gang crime was running rampant. Armed bank robberies were regular occurrences and the police were struggling to deal with driven, organised men with plenty of the "bottle" required to pull off these quick "in/out" jobs. One of the more prolific of these robbers was Derek "Bertie" Smalls but when Smalls was captured, he offered Scotland Yard a deal complete immunity from prosecution in return for names and details of countless bank robberies going back over years. This marked the start of the period of the "supergrass" a trend that shocked the underworld but would not be a system free from problems and failures.
Thank Life on Mars for this documentary I think, because the recreation of the scenes on the streets, cells and courtrooms of the 1970's do owe a certain amount to the success and popularity of that show. That is not to suggest that the dramatic recreations and the Sweeny-style acting is all this film has to offer, because it is still an interesting docu-drama that looks back at the period in the 1970's where informants were heavily used by Scotland Yard. As a documentary, it makes for an interesting and accessible summary of the period's success and its downfall.
It does this by providing a clear narration from Tim Roth but mainly but getting good contributions from police officers and journalists from the period, picking back over the bones. The robbers are not really represented apart from some gruff fellow explaining about the code of honour, but the police coverage is good, particularly the main man himself Lundy. The drama parts are not ever fantastic but they are never as poor as I have come to expect from this type of thing. They do help create a sense of period and they do make the history come alive by putting faces and characters to what would otherwise have been just a collection of names that I had never heard of.
The eventual link to modern times is made right at the end and, in my opinion, could have been made a lot better than just one sentence. However, as a docu-drama it does work. Sure it is more a record than an investigation with great insight but I found it interesting nonetheless and it was nice to have the re-enactments manage to avoid ham in the acting and dialogue.
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