Friday, March 9, 2018

McMafia starring James Norton: My take on the series ... so far. [review] #book2movies

Let There Be Light!

Thanks to OnDemand, I’m all caught up on Episodes 1 & 2 of McMafia and wanted to make sure my fellow Norton fans are up to date to.

James Norton is the only reason I'm watching the AMC show. While it’s inspired by the book McMafia by Misha Glenny, it is Norton, who first dazzled me with his talent as Tommy, the psychotic killer in Happy Valley, that’s the draw for me.

What’s it all about

‘Alex Godman (James Norton), the English-raised son of Russian mafia exiles, has spent his life trying to escape the shadow of their past, building his own legitimate business and forging a life with his girlfriend, Rebecca (Juliet Rylance/The Knick). But when a murder unearths his family’s past, Alex is drawn into the criminal underworld where he must confront his values to protect those he loves.’

Juliette Rylance & James Norton in McMafia

The show is dense, quite relentless as one bad thing leads to another, but beautifully done in terms of the crime thriller genre. Like a good Bond flick—some say this is Norton’s audition for the part of 007—the show takes us all over the world. One moment we might see Alex and Rebecca walking in Hyde Park, the instantly recognizable Albert Hall in the background, the next, Alex is speeding off to the city center of Mombai or looking over the beautiful Charles Bridge in Prague. 

Mariya Shukshina & Aleksey Serebryakov as Alex’s parents

While the Russians are the bad guys—there is a Muscovite out to get the long expatriated Godman family—Godman’s papa (Aleksey Serebryakov) is the typically brooding brand of morose Russian who, in this case, constantly carries vodka around in a water bottle. Typical but not sterotypical, all the characters are well drawn, not clownish cliches of reality. On the plus side for my fellow Anglophiles, Papa Godman sometimes drinks that vodka at the Round Pond, ducks and swans a plenty, Kensington Palace in the background. 

David Strathairn as an Israeli ‘businessman’

The always excellent David Strathairn is an Israeli with underworld ties in search of some good old fashioned money-laundering. David Dencik (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) is deliciously layered as Alex’s beloved uncle, Boris Godman, only too happy to make the connection.

David Dencik is Uncle Boris

McMafia: Not a comedy.

And James, of course, is elegant, looking Bondalicious in a suit ... or whatever. The costume design really is exquisite. What I would have liked to see are scenes where we get to see Norton’s Godman character more fully drawn, with a little less perhaps on his mind. Having a semi-suicidal father, being wrapped up in criminal activities, takes some of the joy out of life, wouldn’t you say? Not a lot of reasons to smile so we don’t get to know Godman all that well outside of his worried visage. We get some rueful smiles, a bit of sexual romping, but we lack the lovely full life of his character in a show like Grantchester, where we see the light and dark moments. McMafia encompasses a murky world full of shadows, within that world I hope the writers find a way to deliver some lightness and allow James Norton to really shine.

Check out the trailer for McMafia which airs here in the US on Mondays at 10pm but is available anytime, OnDemand.

Like British actors as much as I do? Check out Joy’s British Isles Friday post where she takes a quick look at Brits at the Oscars.


  1. That looks like a very different role from Sidney Chambers in Grantchester.


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