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A Town Called Malice, review: a wallow in 1980s nostalgia on the Costa del Crime

Tahirah Sharif and Jack Rowan in A Town Called Malice - Cristina Raos Bordan/Sky
Tahirah Sharif and Jack Rowan in A Town Called Malice - Cristina Raos Bordan/Sky

“If Dallas made love to Pulp Fiction to the sounds of Duran Duran,” is how Sky describes A Town Called Malice, a crime drama set in the 1980s. Ok, we can play that game. It’s Bonnie and Clyde in Fila knitwear soundtracked by Now That’s What I Call Music. But not necessarily in a good way.

It has been created by Nick Love, who found fame with The Football Factory (featuring Danny Dyer). He also made Goodbye, Charlie Bright (featuring Danny Dyer), The Business (featuring Danny Dyer) and Outlaw (featuring Danny Dyer). We can only assume that Danny Dyer was unavailable for A Town Called Malice, but Love has stuck to his favourite theme of swaggering Londoners being – and you have to say this in a Danny Dyer voice – a little bit naughty.

The story is simple. Gene Lord (Jack Rowan) is the youngest and most innocent member of a Sarf London crime family. He meets Cindy (Tahirah Sharif), the girl of his dreams. But things go wrong during a fight with a rival gang and the couple end up fleeing to the Costa del Sol, pursued by a dogged detective, where before long they’re involved in dodgy dealings and Cindy is proving surprisingly handy with a shotgun.

I wanted to love this show, because a) the trailer looked great and b) I’m a sucker for the Eighties. It’s certainly got style and verve, plus a cast whose members seem to be having a whale of a time, notably Dougray Scott as an errant Lord living it up in Spain, and Jason Flemyng as Gene’s dad. American actress Martha Plimpton is a left-field choice as a hard-as-nails South London matriarch, but let’s go with it. There’s also a two-second cameo from a music star which will have you squealing at the TV.

The plot is fun and Rowan is a winning presence, but EastEnders does the family stuff much better. Love runs through a checklist of his favourite things: small-time criminals, gang fights, Sergio Tacchini tracksuits. The 1980s setting slightly plays into the plot – the Costa del Sol is still being developed, meaning potential business deals opening up for the Lords – but otherwise adds nothing except the chance of a cheap nostalgia hit every five minutes. It’s the TV equivalent of those “Does anyone remember…” Facebook pages. Look, a Wimpy! Blue eyeshadow! A policeman driving a Rover! The 1980s chart hits are wall-to-wall – the episode titles are Daddy Cool, Two Tribes, and so on – but if you want to enjoy them in a purer form just watch Top of the Pops 2 instead.


A Town Called Malice begins on Sky Max on Thursday 16 March