ONCE UPON A TIME IN LONDON (2019) Reviews and overview

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‘There can only be one godfather of London’

Once Upon a Time in London is a 2019 British true-crime thriller depicting the violent careers of two leading gangsters in the 40s and 50s.

Directed by Simon Rumley (Fashionista; Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word; Red White & Blue; The Living and the Dead) from a screenplay co-written with Will Gilbey and Terry Stone, who also co-stars. The movie also stars Leo Gregory (Stoned, Green Street), Molly Earl, Josh Myers, Nadja Forde, Roland Manookian, Andy Beckwith, Geoff Bell and Jamie Foreman (Layer Cake). Produced by aforementioned Terry Stone and Richard Turner.


Charts the epic rise and legendary fall of a nationwide criminal empire that lasted for three decades from the late 1930s. The one-time friends and partners in crime turned bitter enemies oversaw a fledgeling East End and Soho underworld responsible for brutal protection rackets, vicious lawbreaking, shocking corruption and glamorous associations, which paved the way for the notorious Kray twins to exert their dominance over the capital’s gangland realm…


“When it comes to extending their screen time to more than 10 minutes, the majority of the cast do struggle to keep the film afloat at the best of times. What doesn’t help the film is having ex-footballers and participants of X-Factor star in the film when they clearly don’t have any acting talent. The inexperience shows big time, especially for a film that is clocking towards the two-hour mark.” All Things Movies

“The politics of these gangs in their efforts to become top dog and have one over on each other should be fascinating but here the story meanders and ultimately degenerates into a succession of ever more brutal beatings and razor slashings. It’s that graphic level of razors slashing at all in sight as entertainment that makes this a little uneasy to watch…” Any Good Films?

“The montages are brutal, the violence is half-baked, the power struggle is muted and uninteresting, and perhaps worst of all: the pauses. When gangsters aren’t punching their way down the street, they’re thinking deep thoughts. We aren’t privy to them but gosh the camera loves to dwell on quiet introspection.” @ssholes Watching Movies

“Director Simon Rumley has the tendency to score the most brutal of beatings with music from the time, cutting out the sounds of blows entirely. This is symptomatic of the film as a whole: which rarely pulls a punch. While the acting is serviceable (with Stone standing out as a ruthless crime baron) they are ultimately let down by a run-of-the-mill script, subpar direction and endless diversions.” D Movies

“Shot entirely on location in and around London, this drama is a fantastic chronicle about the founders of British organised crime and an in-depth exploration of the mobster myth and psyche. It’s a unique viewing experience and a must-see for all true crime fans.” Fab UK

“There’s no whitewash here, this is an ugly story about ugly people with a distorted view on social norms and conventions. Their prime driver, as it is with all criminals, is money. If around that they developed a bizarre code of conduct that gave them the succour of respectability, it was in their minds only.” Film News

“It’s the usual cycle of violence, which feels all the more numbing given the repetitive way Rumley directs, setting fight scene after fight scene to ironic musical choices, which include covers of boogie-woogie standards and pastiche numbers made for the film itself.” The Guardian

“Most gangland biopics are, whatever the intention, exercises in nostalgia – they only hurt each other, they wore snappy suits, they had amusing nicknames.  This isn’t – this is about horrible people who were mostly miserable, even when ahead of the game, and represented a country cheerlessly turning in on itself, where love and honour and friendship meant nothing really…” The Kim Newman Web Site

“It’s hard to really care who did what to who – it plays like a dreary soap opera in which these suited-and-booted street toughs switch sides with glee abandon, and their cocksure attempts at toppling the gangster brass seldom go as planned. Rumley’s fidelity to messy cultural history means that there isn’t really a satisfying arc or single dramatic focal point…” Little White Lies

“Rumley & Co. seem most intent on upping the violence ante from the various films about The Krays […] They succeed in this. But the movie’s very much a witless slog through dimly lit warehouses and pubs, the odd jazz guitar trio never lightening the mood, no gangster standing out for anything other than cruelty, bravado and toughness.” Movie Nation

“The film looks and feels cheap, the production values what you’d expect from a reconstruction in a Fred Dinenage true crime documentary, perhaps the best thing about the film being Ronald Manookian’s essaying of celebrity evil nutbag Frankie Fraser, matter-of-factly carving up teenagers and throwing darts at some poor geezer’s mush. Overlong, overstuffed and unsatisfying…” Movie Ramblings

” …this was a huge story with so much content that maybe it would’ve worked better as a 3-part series rather than a feature-length film. The story is quite hard to follow and at times moves at a confusing pace. But there’s enough gratuitous violence around every corner to make you think “what was the point in that?… oh someone got cut in the face with a razor blade. Who cares” Moviehooker

“Rumley’s use of cuts, elisions and rhythmic montage (here set regularly to contemporary songs) compresses the narrative time to half the length of Leone’s crime epic. Perhaps in keeping with the rationing that dominated much of the film’s timeline, this is lean, economic storytelling – and although there is violence aplenty, Rumley knows when to cut away, focusing less on the vicious act than on its blood-stained aftermath.” Projected Figures

” …it becomes tricky to follow who’s who, especially as Rumley also tries to focus on the women in Hill and Comer’s lives. The performances are solid, the visuals slick and the pastiche score catchily effective. Yet Rumley simply doesn’t have the resources or the scope to do justice to his ambition.” Radio Times

“Men sit in pubs and discuss what they are going to do to some unseen foe. Men rush into buildings to beat or stab other men who are already there. A jazz band noodles around on the soundtrack, while stupefyingly repetitious montages of violence and celebration judder across the screen […] And then it all happens again.” Stuff.co.nz

Once Upon a Time in London does deserve credit for its efforts to recreate the London of the 40s and 50s.  The clubs and the shabby suits all feel authentic and the dialogue is believably pungent, if not particularly interesting.  But, for all the care that went into recreating the era, the movie struggles to get us to care about any of it.” Through the Shattered Lens

“Rumley has chops, as he proved with his psychologically acute biopic of yachtsman Donald Crowhurst, and when his film does stop for a breather between fights, it offers a tour of Soho fleshpots and Whitechapel dives that’s embroidered with smoky period detail and outsized Cockneys. Sadly, there’s no one worth rooting for in its pantheon of prop-a villains…” Time Out

“sets itself an impossible task by aiming to mythologise Spot and Billy as underworld kings at the same time as attempting to deconstruct them as historical figures. The former requires an incredible breadth of characters and events […] the film suffers, never quite reaching down deep enough into the characters’ psyches…” The Upcoming

Cast and characters:

Terry Stone … Jack ‘Spot’ Comer
Andy Beckwith … Sonny The Yank
Josh Myers … Moisha Blueball
Christopher Dunne … Mr Felson
Nicholas Gecks … Judge 1
Leo Gregory … Billy Hill
Ali Cook … Odd Legs
Joe Egan … Bears Breath
Amy Loughton … Mrs Bennett
Justin Salinger … Harry White
Jamie Foreman … Alf White
Adam Saint … Mr Sabini
Andrea Coombs … Mrs Pickett
Roger Alborough … Mr Pickett
Holly Earl … Aggie Pickett
Geoff Bell … Darky Mulley
Jason Riddington … Thug 1
Colin Burt Vidler … Thug 2
Grant Davis … Mr May
Frank Buglioni … Elephant Dave
Alex Watts … Billy Sparks
Jamie O’Hara … Grinning Mike
Alfie Best … Electric Alfie
J.J. Hamblett … Bobby Warren
Theo Devaney … Stanley
Steve Collins … Big Bill
Simon Nader … Little Alan
Roland Manookian … Frankie Fraser
Shereen Guerlin Ball … Tiger Lilly (as Shereen Ball)
John Michael Lowe … Alex The Barman (as John Lowe)
Dominic Keating … Belgian Johnny
Kate Braithwaite … Gypsey
Doug Allen … Albert Dimes
Laura Carter … Daisy
Michael McKell … Detective Rogers
Nadia Forde … Rita
Mark Harris … DS Higgins
Simon Munnery … Duncan Webb
Henry Empson … Young Thug
Scott Lane … Policeman
Alexis Caley … Rose Heilbron QC
Jack Kane … Teenager 1
Jonathan Milshaw … Teenager 2
Tom Ratcliffe … Teenager 3
Glyn Dilley … Judge 2
Kem Hassan … Ronnie Kray (as Kem Croft)
Kerim Hassan … Reggie Kray (as Kerim Croft)

Filming locations:

London, England

Technical details:

111 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85: 1


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