Currently on the global awards circuit for his intense Holocaust drama “The Zone of Interest,” director Jonathan Glazer is attracting attention. With only four films to his credit, it’s an opportune moment to revisit Glazer’s debut work, the 2000 crime drama “Sexy Beast,” featuring Ray Winstone as a retired gangster pulled back into the underworld. This film stands the test of time—a concise, humorous, and philosophical exploration of the lingering impact of the past. However, the new eight-episode series adaptation of “Sexy Beast” on Paramount+ struggles to break free from its predecessor’s influence.
This iteration is a straightforward prequel, with James McArdle taking on the role of a younger Gal, a London East End native and small-time thief, originally portrayed by Winstone. Gal’s partner in crime is childhood friend Don (Emun Elliott), setting the stage for their eventual falling out, Gal’s time in prison, and marriage to Deedee (Sarah Greene). Developed by “The Sopranos” writer Michael Caleo, the series delves into the events leading up to Gal’s conflicts and personal journey.
Caleo appears to be fascinated by the post-Thatcher London underworld, using the “Sexy Beast” concept as a gateway. However, the series focuses more on filling in backstory and answering questions that may not have crossed the minds of either original fans or new viewers. While the original film is remembered fondly, it wasn’t a blockbuster, making the decision to explore these narratives seem somewhat disconnected.
Personally, I’ve never pondered Gal’s motivations for a life of crime or his love life before meeting Deedee. Similarly, Don’s background or family life never intrigued me. Even Deedee’s past as an adult film star, attempting to assert her agency, doesn’t add much to the narrative. Unfortunately, every moment spent on these tangential storylines diminishes the tension and streamlined storytelling that made the original a compelling heist narrative.
The original “Sexy Beast” thrived on its vibe rather than a complex plot. Jonathan Glazer, known for his work in music videos, created visually striking scenes, such as a boulder crashing into Gal’s swimming pool or a safe-cracking sequence underwater. The prequel sacrifices this unique style for less captivating logistical details, emphasizing the challenges of translating certain concepts across mediums.
In the prequel, Gal and Don are recruited for a mission by Teddy (Stephen Moyer), their handler from the film. James McArdle brings affability to Gal, while Emun Elliott attempts to recreate Kingsley’s verbal intensity. Teddy introduces a Robin Hood-like populism, depicting the aristocracy as the true gangsters. However, the show veers into sensational violence, overshadowing the intriguing aspects of “Sexy Beast” with excessive brutality.
The graphic sexual assault depicted by Teddy in the second episode is one example of the sensational violence that overwhelms the series. The show’s focus on emotional and physical stakes detracts from the original’s simplicity—a criminal gang’s mission to rebel against the system. In attempting to turn a standalone film into a franchise, the series falls victim to the adage “less is more,” proving that sometimes, more is indeed less.