McMafia grapples with the differences between “good” and “bad” capitalism—and makes thrilling drama at the same time.
The BBC series is based—loosely—on journalist Misha Glenny’s book, which looked at organised crime across the world.
In the adaptation the fictional Godman family is dispossessed by Vadim Kalyagin, a powerful Russian drug magnate. Some oligarchs, who got rich quick, fell out of favour with the Kremlin in the chaos of 1990s Russia.
Now living as exiles in London, the Godmans wallow in wealth and alienation. Their son and the show’s protagonist Alex had an affluent upbringing near Knightsbridge. Father Dimitri drinks and dreams of Moscow. Uncle Boris also dreams—of revenge.
The tension between “good” and “bad” capitalism is personified by Alex’s relationship with Dmitri. It plays out in their day to day interactions.
Alex builds his investment fund, Godman Capital, using legal means, focusing on being “transparent” and “ethical”.
But disaster strikes in the first episode. As investors pull their money from Godman Capital following rumours, he is forced to go to dodgy Uncle Boris.
Alex is increasingly pulled into a murky world. Beneath his public school politeness, he is capable of ruthlessness, sometimes to his own surprise. With successful business deals come the death of rivals and unwilling partners.
Because of his slow descent Alex is an uncomfortably sympathetic protagonist. And, at times, the gulf between gentlemen and gangsters is played up too much. But the show also hints that organised crime isn’t just a carbuncle on capitalism.
Banker Sydney Bloom is keen to lecture on the need for ethical capitalism, lest ordinary people lose faith in the free market. He made his “clean money” stripping down African ports.
McMafia has ranged from gang warfare in Moscow to human trafficking in its first two episodes.
Its plot could develop into a story about a good man’s descent into capitalism’s underbelly.
It also has much richer potential to point to how organised crime is part of the swindle at the heart of capitalist society. And that “good” and “bad” capitalism are two sides of one rotten system.
McMafia is on BBC One on Sundays at 9pm. Also available on iPlayer