McMafia, with James Norton, BBC1

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 28/11/2017 - Programme Name: McMafia - TX: n/a - Episode: McMafia - Generics (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: From L-R: Dimitri (Aleksey Serebryakov), Alex (James Norton), Oksana (Maria Shukshina), Katya (Faye Marsay) and Rebecca (Juliet Rylance).   Please find attached a new image from BBC One’s eight-part global crime thriller, McMafia. The image shows Alex Godman (James Norton), the English-raised son of Russian exiles with a mafia history, and his family.   Faye Marsay (Love Nina, Game Of Thrones) portrays Katya, Alex’s sister, and Juliet Rylance (The Knick, Frances Ha) is Alex’s strong-willed and morally upright British girlfriend, Rebecca. Aleksey Serebryakov (The Method, Leviathan) is Dimitri, Alex’s father and the exiled head of the Russian mafia, and Maria Shukshina (Yolki 3, Terrorist Ivanona) is Oksana, Alex’s socialite mother. Rebecca (JULIET RYLANCE), Katya (FAYE MARSAY), Oksana (MARIA SHUKSHINA), Alex (JAMES NORTON), Dimitri (ALEKSEY SEREBRYAKOV) - (C) BBC WorldWide - Photographer: n/a

Left to right: Dimitri (Aleksey Serebryakov), Alex (James Norton), Oksana (Maria Shukshina), Katya (Faye Marsay) and Rebecca (Juliet Rylance)

Based on Misha Glenny’s non-fiction book, this superb drama is a journey into the complex web of modern international crime

★★★★★

BBC1, New Year’s Day, 1 January, 9pm

CHRISTMAS FESTIVITIES out of the way, the Beeb kicks off 2018 with this punchy, sophisticated drama.

It’s based on journalist Misha Glenny’s bestselling non-fiction exploration of modern-day, industrial levels of international crime. It’s been turned into a fictional drama here.

Programme Name: McMafia - TX: n/a - Episode: McMafia Episode One (No. 1) - Picture Shows:  Alex Godman (JAMES NORTON), Tanya (YUVAL SCHARF) - (C) Cuba Productions - Photographer: Nick Wall

Dangerous liaisons: Alex Godman (James Norton), Tanya (Yuval Scharf)

McMafia is the tale of Alex Godman – wonderfully played by James Norton – a hedge-fund boss whose Russian-family past sucks him into a dangerous world. Alex’s business is in trouble and he needs new investors.

From the Middle East to London and Moscow

He turns to his dodgy Russian uncle Boris (David Dencik) for help, but soon realises that the Israeli investor Boris suggests, Semiyon Kleiman (David Strathrain) is looking for someone to launder millions in dirty money.

Alex is not interested, but when events take a violent turn, he realises that to save his family he may have to join with Kleiman.

This is a big, richly observed and serious drama. The characters are fascinating and the criminal enterprises depicted are intimidating and frightening.

It’s also superbly made and written. Moving from the Middle East to Moscow, London, Tel Aviv and Versailles, it reveals an opulent world fuelled by cynicism and lethal ruthlessness.

This is far better than Grantchester

Programme Name: McMafia - TX: n/a - Episode: McMafia Episode One (No. 1) - Picture Shows:  Alex Godman (JAMES NORTON) - (C) Cuba Productions

Armed struggle: Alex Godman (James Norton)

When Alex tells his mother, ‘What he [Kleiman] wants is illegal,’ she just replies, ‘How illegal?’

When the violence intrudes on Alex’s life, it is sudden, realistic and horrifying. And if you want to see James Norton stretch himself in a series that’s far superior to the rather twee Grantchester, this is it.

The old mob outfits that inspired movies such as The Godfather and GoodFellas look like playground squabbles compared to the vast criminal organisations uncovered in Glenny’s book. McMafia a series that should not be missed.

If the BBC makes a more impressive drama in the months ahead, 2018 will be a very special TV year indeed.

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