Netlix’s The Gentlemen lets Guy Ritchie get back to basics and perfect his vibe

Guy Ritchie is a more dexterous filmmaker than people give him credit for. Sure, all his movies are similar in spirit — kinetic action movies with a wry sense of Extremely British Humour, but his deftness comes at knowing which element of his style needs to be emphasized for each particular project. Just last year he released two movies, The Covenant and Operation Fortune, with wildly different tones — Operation Fortune skewing more toward screwball comedy, and The Covenant being an excellent and serious look at the tensions of wartime bureaucracy. But even appreciating all that filmmaking flexibility, his fantastic new series on Netflix, The Gentlemen, lets Ritchie get back to his U.K. crime roots and refine the vibes he does best.

Despite having the same title as a previous Ritchie movie, The Gentlemen isn’t exactly a direct sequel or remake of the film. Instead, it’s more spiritually linked specifically via the connections of drugs, boxing, and British dynastic wealth — three things Ritchie has always seemed fascinated by as an artist.

The show follows Eddie (Theo James), a former soldier who gets pulled out of the military when his father dies so he can take over his dukeship, which his father passed onto him instead of his older brother. While the title itself is a surprise, the bigger shock comes when Eddie discovers that his seemingly law-abiding father had been renting his land to a drug empire for the last several years, a business venture Eddie is keen to extricate the family from as fast as possible. Something he can only do, of course, by committing quite a few crimes in the process.

Kaya Scodelario as Susie Glass stands in front of a car in The Gentleman wearing a pink coat Photo: Netflix

The Gentlemen should feel instantly recognizable to anyone who’s seen Ritchie’s earlier work, particularly Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch. The show is full of gangsters with Coen brothers criminal buffoonery and Tarantino-movie mouths.

Where it diverges from those early Ritchie movies is in its level of focus, at least in the first few episodes that I’ve seen so far. Rather than jumping between perspectives, playing out half a dozen stories at once and waiting for them to converge, The Gentlemen keeps the action tight on Eddie, his brother Freddy (Daniel Ings), and Susie Glass (Kaya Scodelario), the woman in charge of the drug business on Eddie’s property.

By keeping things a little more tidy than Ritchie has in the past, The Gentlemen gives us more time to understand and appreciate its leads. The characters, particularly Eddie and Susie, are well-drawn and precise, more carefully rounded and interesting than any of Ritchie’s early gangsters and deserving of the attention the show pays them. Little gestures feel deeply revealing of who these people are and the ways they both are and aren’t comfortable around the violence that their illegal activities often make necessary.

Of course, it’s still a Guy Ritchie project, so the three lead characters are surrounded constantly by a ridiculous, fascinating, and deeply funny supporting cast. The episodic format pays dividends here, allowing these characters to jump into the story as broad caricatures and jump out of the story the second they’re no longer needed. The Gentlemen uses this to pull in bizarre criminals, like a machete-wielding chop shopper with a hair trigger for violence or a hardass drug dealer with a hunger for a viral chicken dance video. All these characters are weird, funny, and perfect for building out the show’s deeply strange, but thoroughly enjoyable, criminal underworld.

Martha Millan as Mercy in The Gentlemen holding a machete and standing next to a man tied to a chair with a bag on his head Photo: Christopher Rafael/Netflix

All of these shenanigans are unmistakably Guy Ritchie-flavored, but another of The Gentlemen’s great joys is seeing Ritchie’s sensibilities filtered through so many other people. While Ritchie is the creator of The Gentlemen, he only wrote and directed two of the show’s eight episodes and worked as a collaborator to oversee the rest. The episodes Ritchie didn’t write still feel distinctly like part of his world, but in a slightly refreshing and different voice that helps keep things fun.

Ritchie has found success in plenty of different movies and genres over the last several years. Even his Sherlock Holmes movies are refreshingly well made after a decade of flat-feeling blockbusters. But The Gentlemen proves he hasn’t lost his step when it comes to buffoonish gangsters, and in fact, he might be better at it than ever.

The Gentlemen season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.