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Damian Lewis and Tim Roth: Back in Their Homeland

January 29, 2013

With indecipherably thick accents and greasier-than-fish-and-chips ambiance, British crime drama has become such a specific genre, SNL even parodied it a few years ago with the faux trailer for “Don’ You Go Rounin Roun To Re Ro.” (“Time Magazine says, ‘Is there a way to turn on the subtitles button for a movie that’s in English? If so, which button is it?'”) Now two more gritty, grimy entries are arriving from across the pond, each starring a U.K.-born actor who’s been moonlighting on U.S. TV lately: Homelands Damian Lewis in The Sweeney and Lie to Me’s Tim Roth in The Liability. And they’re both bloody brilliant.

The Sweeney is based on a ’70s cop show that starred John Thaw, who’s better known stateside as Inspector Morse, as Det. Inspector Jack Regan, a rule-busting renegade who leads the London PD’s “Flying Squad.” (How British was this show? Flying Squad rhymes with Sweeney Todd in Cockney slang, thus giving the series its title.) They attempt to intercept robberies as they occur, which leads to a shockingly high body count and constant attention from the Internal Affairs Division.

The big-screen remake, which will hit US theaters and VOD March 1, perfectly casts Sexy Beast‘s Ray Winstone as Regan, with Lewis taking a supporting role as his protective captain, Frank Haskins. Yank viewers may also recognize the delectably buxom Hayley Atwell (Captain America: The First Avenger) as Regan’s mistress, a member of his squad who also happens to be married to his IAD antagonist (Steven Mackintosh). Cowritten by director Nick Love and Trainspotting scribe John Hodge, The Sweeney features great fight scenes, exciting car chases and a cheeky sense of humor. And it’s fun to hear Lewis speak in his native accent somewhere other than at the podium of an awards show.

Unlike Lewis, Roth didn’t have to disguise his British brogue during his three-season run as human polygraph Dr. Cal Lightman on Lie to Me. But he’s still fun to hear in The Liability (available on VOD today), which harkens back to the film in which he first caught my attention: The Hit. In director Stephen Frears’ underrated 1984 crime drama, Roth was cast as the hyperkinetic young sidekick to an aging assassin (John Hurt). Nearly 30 years later, he’s the old gun, with Jack O’Connell (Skins) as his teen protegé. Roth emits an endearing world-weariness, and Peter Mullan (War Horse) is deeply creepy as O’Connell’s evil would-be stepfather, whose human trafficking turns the youth into a target for a sex slave’s vengeful sister (Talulah Riley).

Roth brings crime-movie cred from his stints with Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction) to his role as a dogged detective investigating shady hedge-fund manager Richard Gere in last year’s Arbitrage. Both The Liability and The Sweeney prove that even though the British have invaded our TV series, they still rule on their home turf. And that, Anglophiles and phobes alike, is no rubbish.

What’s your favorite British crime drama? The Long Good Friday, anybody?

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