Director/co-writer Don Boyd (who orchestrated the ambitious collage film Aria) blends Shakespeare’s King Lear with the British crime drama in this fascinating, but not completely successful, film. It centers on Sandeman (Richard Harris), top dog on the Liverpool mob scene, whose wife (Lynne Redgrave) is inexplicably and tragically killed one night. From here on, his world unravels as he passes his empire on to his three daughters: brothel keeper Kath (Louise Lombard), football team owner Tracy (Lorraine Pilkington) and recovering addict Jo (Emma Catherwood). But favored daughter Jo wants nothing to do with it, leaving Kath and Tracy to battle it out with help from their thuggish husbands (Paul McGann and The Guru’s Jimi Mistry) and a number of other unsavory characters.
The plot is very clever, but Boyd weighs it down with too many characters and events, all intertwined and far too complicated to keep track of. We can follow it to a degree, and yet key scenes are confusing and ,therefore, lacking in the punch that would make it all far more meaningful. Not to mention derivative “Godfather”-type crosscutting between contrasting events taking place at the same time. Still, at the center is a wonderful performance from Harris as a man watching his carefully built world implode spectacularly. His finely measured, subtle acting is terrific, especially as he engages with the other characters. And his specific story arc is terrifically moving in a way nothing else about the film is.
Elsewhere, McGann and Mistry stand out with against-type performances that are truly vicious and frightening, hinting at a lot under the surface. And Redgrave is terrific as usual in her brief role. All of the acting is far above average–the characters are believable and fascinating, creepy and surprisingly human. So it’s even more of a pity that the film is so overloaded with meaning and plotlines and people and scenes that never all come together coherently. We spend so much time trying desperately to get everything straight in our minds that the raw punch of the material passes us by. And it ends up feeling like just another uneven British crime drama.