A gangland family destroys itself from within in "My Kingdom," an intriguing spin on the British crime genre that's more a series of strong performances than a fully worked-out character drama.

A gangland family destroys itself from within in “My Kingdom,” an intriguing spin on the British crime genre that’s more a series of strong performances than a fully worked-out character drama. Showcasing an excellent, multi-generational cast of British actors through the framework of a “King Lear”-like story, iconoclastic helmer Don Boyd has come up with a dark, violent but rather talky picture that reps a tricky marketing challenge, despite the caliber of the talent on show. Festival platforming could help it find a niche audience before moving on to ancillary.

Richard Harris is at his weariest, battle-scarred best as Sandeman, an aging Liverpool gang don with a devoted wife, Mandy (Lynn Redgrave), and three grown daughters. Eager to hand over his crown but still relishing the trappings of power, he arrives late at a church concert and calmly conducts an overseas drugs operation via his cell phone during the performance.

An unexpected event sends Sandeman’s universe into a spin. While taking a breath of fresh air with Mandy the same night, he’s held up at gunpoint by a masked mugger and Mandy is accidentally shot dead. Mortified, Sandeman decides to hand his business over to his middle daughter, Jo (Emma Catherwood), his favorite, while trying the find the truth behind what he believes was no chance mugging.

Sandeman had already put his estate in Mandy’s name, and Jo is the sole benefactor — a gift she rejects, precipitating a power struggle. On one side is eldest daughter Kath (Louise Lombard), married to Dean (Paul McGann), one of Sandeman’s heavies; on the other is youngest daughter Tracy (Lorraine Pilkington), wife of a vicious Indian heroin dealer, Jug (Jimi Mistry). Loitering on the sidelines are two figures of law and order, determined to nail Sandeman while he seems to be down: corrupt cop Puttnam (Aidan Gillen) and customs officer Quick (Tom Bell).

With this mass of characters, it’s only in the third reel that their identities and positions are clearly explained, as Puttnam and Quick form an uneasy alliance to trap Sandeman through his Dutch drugs operation. Aligning herself with the greedy Puttnam, Kath makes a putsch and throws out her father, who’s then offered sanctuary by Tracy and Jug.Despite parallels with “Lear,” pic is in no way an updated version. Boyd has simply taken an existing framework and grafted on a story that’s rooted in the grim, English gangland genre and a landscape of inner-city decay that’s as valid now as at any time in the ’70s when the genre was reinvented though “Get Carter,” “Villain” and the later “The Long Good Friday.”

Some of the set-pieces work well, notably the post-funeral dinner in which the ambitious Kath and trashy Tracy make their very different bids for attention while Tracy’s spouse calmly tortures a snitch on a steel table in a back room. In sequences in which the cast interacts as an ensemble, or where cross-cutting gives momentum to the interplay of characters, the movie develops considerable atmosphere. Elsewhere, however, it often plays as a lopsided series of dialogue scenes that are more performance opportunities than anything else.

Like a wise old horse that knows it doesn’t have to take the lead early on, Harris dominates the field with a quiet authority. Bell, another vet, is fine when given a chance but never really gets his character off the starting block. Among the strong distaff cast, Lombard, who’s done some notable TV work in the past, stands out as the ambitious Kath, in a surprisingly mature perf. Of the supports, Mistry (from soap “EastEnders”) makes the most impact as the smooth, psychotic Jug.

Dewald Aukema’s lensing of the Liverpool locations brings a cold, bleak beauty to the Scouse power-play, and other tech credits are solid.

My Kingdom

U.K.

Production

A Sky Pictures presentation of a Close Grip Films/Primary Pictures production, in association with Key Films (Italy) and Take 2 Partnership. (International sales: Overseas Filmgroup, L.A.) Produced by Neal Weisman, Gabriela Bacher. Executive producers, William Turner, Nadine Mellor. Co-producer, Kermit Smith. Directed by Don Boyd. Screenplay, Nick Davies, Boyd; story, Boyd, inspired by Shakespeare's "King Lear."

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Dewald Aukema; editor, Adam Ross; music, Deirdre Gribbin, Simon Fisher Turner; production designer, Luana Hanson; art director, David Endley; costume designer, Mary Jane Reyner; sound (Dolby Digital), Giancarlo Dellapina; assistant director, Chris Dando; casting, Michelle Smith, Judi Hayfield. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 16, 2001. Running time: 117 MIN.

With

Sandeman - Richard Harris Mandy - Lynn Redgrave Quick - Tom Bell Jo - Emma Catherwood Barry Puttnam - Aidan Gillen Kath - Louise Lombard Dean - Paul McGann Jug - Jimi Mistry The Boy - Reece Noi Tracy - Lorraine Pilkington The Chair - Colin Salmon Merv - David Yip

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