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BBC Sells Controversial Russian Mob Drama ‘McMafia’ to Russia (EXCLUSIVE)

BBC Studios has managed to sell Russian mob drama “McMafia” to Russia itself, despite objections from Russian authorities to the series when it aired in Britain and amid worsening relations between the two countries over the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal, Variety has learned.

The series, which centers on a global crime ring run out of Russia, was broadcast on the BBC in the U.K. and AMC in the U.S., and will go out in Russia on the country’s free-TV channel Friday. Starring James Norton, who had a major role in the BBC’s adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” “McMafia” was also picked up internationally by Amazon for its streaming service.

When the show was originally broadcast in the U.K. earlier this year, the Russian embassy in London tweeted that the BBC was spreading cliches and depicting “Britain as a playground for Russian gangsters.” Since then, relations between the two countries have deteriorated badly as they clash over who is responsible for the poisoning last month of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England. The British government accuses Moscow of trying to assassinate Skripal on British soil with a lethal nerve agent.

“McMafia,” based on the nonfiction book by Misha Glenny, follows Alex Goodman (Norton), an English-raised son of Russian exiles with a mafia history. He has spent his life trying to escape the shadow of that criminal past, which comes back to haunt him and his girlfriend, Rebecca (Juliet Rylance).

The series was created created by Hossein Amini (“Drive”) and James Watkins, who directed the eight-part show. Cuba Pictures produced the series.

The sale of “McMafia” is part of a wider agreement with Friday, which secured the rights to become the new TV home of the “Sherlock” franchise in Russia. The channel has also acquired a number of BBC natural history titles including “Planet Earth,” “Planet Earth II,” and “Blue Planet II,” as well as premium BBC science titles, “Earth From Space” and “The Planets.”

Nikolay Kartozia, general director of Friday, said: “I’ve been a big fan of the BBC for almost 20 years. Their news, documentaries and dramas are all of the highest quality, so now it is a great honor that BBC Studios has selected Friday as a partner. It means that we are going the right way.”

Salim Mukaddam, BBC Studios’ general manager for Central and Eastern Europe, added: “We hope this is the beginning of a long and successful partnership between Friday and BBC Studios.”

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