BBC dramas tend to be hit or miss in their delivery but with globe-trotting, well paced McMafia, this is one crime drama that’s certainly more hit than miss. It’s not without its issues but with 8 episodes spanning multiple locations around the world, what begins as a simple story of redemption quickly escalates to include multiple countries and an intricate web of globalised crime. Ultimately its this view of the criminal underworld that makes McMafia such an endearing show. With a multi-national cast of characters authentically portraying different characters around the world, McMafia is an impressive entry in the crime genre.
Although the story tends to jump to different locations across the globe, the predominant focus remains squarely on English-raised Alex Godman (James Norton) whom we follow for much of the series. With the shadow of his family’s crime-filled past playing heavily on his mind, Alex defiantly walks the straight and narrow; refusing to become entangled in the world of crime like his family members. However, when his own banking company runs into financial crisis, Alex begrudgingly accepts the help from a less than desirable source in Israeli businessman Semiyon Kleiman (David Strathairn). Upon entering this deal, Alex becomes entangled in the very world he was trying to avoid and what begins as a simple business venture quickly escalates to include multiple criminal players across the world and a mission to take down cold and calculated Russian Vadim Kalyagin (Merab Ninidze), responsible for some of the atrocities his family endured in the past. The plot does become incredibly tense late on too as the issue become more personal and inevitable casualties occur. The story does starts out introducing an awful lot of characters in a short space of time but thanks to a confidently written script and an intriguing cast of characters, McMafia never loses focus on the plot.
On the surface, McMafia doesn’t really do anything particularly outstanding that hasn’t been done in other crime dramas. Where this BBC drama excels is in the beautiful locations depicted throughout the show, authenticated by realistically depicted regional dialects emphasising the feeling of actually being in that country. There’s a great juxtaposition between the beauty of the surface world and the grimy, dirty underbelly where the criminals reside and McMafia is surprisingly subtle in the way it depicts this too. What’s really impressive with McMafia is the level of detail put into recreating a believable crime syndicate operating around the world. From drug smuggling to human trafficking, McMafia showcases the dark underbelly of society in all its ugliness. There’s some well written dialogue accompanying some of these scenes too which are surprisingly varied and authentic depending on which country the action takes place in. McMafia is a little light on action too but the scarcely placed foot chases, scuffles and gun fights are shot well for the most part and certainly help with the pacing.
There’s some interesting questions raised around corruption and just how deeply embedded crime is to our society as well and for the most part, McMafia explores this in a way that never feels contrived or forced. The current trope in TV of painting Russians as the villains seems to be a consistent trend across many shows and McMafia is no exception. Thankfully politics never feature heavily in this show despite the obvious crime links and politicians that crop up so it isn’t too much of an issue. Which is just as well too as the cold and calculated Russian Vadim Kalyagin (Merab Ninidze) is a worthy adversary for Alex throughout the 8 episodes.
McMafia is certainly one of BBCs better efforts and the aesthetically pleasing vistas across the world mixed with a host of intelligently written characters from different countries helps this crime drama stand out. Despite the cliched trope of painting the Russians as the villains, the hierarchical nature of the crime industry and way McMafia showcases the globalisation of crime overshadows the minor points in an excellently structured show. The pacing is on point too and the episode length is perfect, helping McMafia to never feel like its outstayed its welcome past its nail-biting climax. If BBC’s integrity with the quality of its drama was ever under scrutiny, McMafia is the confidently written, well paced answer to silence the critics.