Sexy Beast (2024) Is Enjoyable Enough as Fan Fiction

Gal lies on a beach chair sunbathing with a small pool next to him in the premiere of Sexy Beast on Paramount+

The following review contains spoilers for Sexy Beast (2024) Episodes 1–3 (written and directed by Michael Caleo)

I saw Sexy Beast (2000) when it came out, in an arthouse theater in Royal Oak, Michigan, while I was visiting a friend. I knew almost nothing about the film going in, but was immediately struck by how it felt, as it opened with Gal (Ray Winstone) basking in the Spanish sun. I’d think about his monologue for years to come whenever I went to a beach or something like that—how it was hot, too hot, but this was somehow both a plaint and an articulation of pleasure.

Gal lies on a chair sunbathing wearing sunglasses and a speedo in the opening of 2000's Sexy Beast
Screenshot/Fox Searchlight Pictures

And then there was the Ben Kingsley of it all, with a role that stood in such contrast to anything I’d seen him in prior. Don Logan felt almost like an antithesis to Gandhi—tightly wound and violent. For some reason, the moment that lodged in my mind the most was when he curtly told Gal he’d have a look around in a moment when he had a piss.

Don is there to rope Gal back into the life of crime he’s retired from, for one last job as it were, but I don’t intend to summarize the whole film for you here. Presumably, if you’re watching the Sexy Beast prequel series, you’ve seen it, though I can’t help but wonder if you might enjoy this show more if you haven’t.

Don sits stiffly while holding a drink in 2000's Sexy Beast
Screenshot/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Sexy Beast by no means needed a prequel series. The film’s implied backstory functions perfectly well, and arguably it’s better left implicit. One of the reasons I felt compelled to check out the prequel series nonetheless was a fear that it would ruin the film.

I wouldn’t say that it does, but that’s mostly because Sexy Beast (2024) feels more like a work of fan fiction than anything. While film writers Louis Mellis and David Scinto are credited as executive producers on the series, it’s not clear how much they were involved in creating it, and film director Jonathan Glazer’s name is nowhere to be found on the credits. Rather, the creative force here would seem to be Michael Caleo, who to my knowledge had nothing to do with the 2000 film.

That’s all well and good, and I hope that referring to this prequel series as fan fiction doesn’t seem demeaning. Viewing it that way has actually helped me enjoy it; otherwise, my criticisms would be a lot more forceful.

Don drinks a milkshake while Gal looks on

I mean no offense to Emun Elliott when I say that his performance as Don Logan pales in comparison to Ben Kingsley’s. I honestly don’t think anyone could do better, and it almost seems unfair to ask anyone to try to recapture this iconic role. The same goes for Stephen Moyer’s Teddy Bass—good try, but I don’t envy being asked to live up to Ian McShane.

The deeper point, though, is that I don’t really agree with how these characters are being presented in Sexy Beast (2024). The 2000 film encouraged us to imagine the history between Gal and Don, and how Teddy fit into that history, and I don’t grant this series the right to override what I’d dreamed for myself.

Kingsley’s Don is tight and neurotic, but he feels in control in a way that adds to his menace. It’s as though his every word and gesture carries a threat of violence, such that he’s not used to having to carry out actual violence. It’s not out of character when he snaps so much as he seems a bit annoyed to have to.

In contrast, the first three episodes of the prequel series present Don as something of a powerless manchild we’re almost supposed to feel bad for. He’s controlled by his sister, Cecilia (Tamsin Greig), and is really a pathetic figure. In his relationship with Gal (James McArdle), it’s clearly the latter who holds more power. Gal tells his fiancée, Marjorie (Eliza Bennett), that Don needs him, and in the context of this series, I believe him. Don’s whole disposition is explained through a childhood where he suffered abuse, only to be “saved” by an abusive sister.

Cecelia talking in an arcade

I don’t want to feel bad for Don, I don’t want to imagine that he was at one point Gal’s weird friend no one liked, and I don’t want his character explained through childhood trauma. I’d rather disconnect this series from the film and pretend it’s a new story.

Similarly, the film presents Teddy Bass as though he was one of many people Gal and Don had worked with/for in the past, while the prequel series is setting him up as an enormous figure in their lives. I don’t know how well that fits with the rapport (or lack thereof) we see between Teddy and Gal in the film. I’d prefer to not think about it.

Teddy offers a toast

Yet, Sexy Beast (2024) is filled with callbacks to the 2000 film that tend to feel a bit too on the nose: Teddy says that “there’s always a f*cking way” when he describes the first job; Don repeats the word “yes” and the word “no” in various moments that mimic Kingsley’s performance but don’t match the context; and we even get Gal and Teddy sharing a tense car ride that ends with Teddy saying the exact words he does in the film.

I’m less bothered by the way the opening scene of the series mimics that of the film, but with Gal sunbathing on a roof, or with Aitch (John Dagleish) going on about cloning in a way that calls to mind how he was on about everlasting haircuts in the movie, but in many ways the references this show makes to its source material just feel too direct.

That said, the most compelling aspect of Sexy Beast (2024) might be in the backstory it provides to Deedee (Sarah Greene). We knew she was a pornstar from the film, but the series sees her navigating the power dynamics of the industry and attempting to exert her agency in a way that deepens the character, and I’m more invested in Gal’s courtship of her than in any of the crime stuff.

Of course, Deedee is also caught up in the crime stuff, as the McGraws control the studio where she works and beat the man who was going to offer her a way out to a pulp. And those same McGraws are working for the muckety-muck Teddy is employing Gal and Don to steal from.

Everything’s tied too closely together.

Gal and Dee look at each other in a club

Gal, Don, Aitch, and Larry (Kyle Rowe) pull a heist on a van to steal a coin in Episode 1, which is all well and good except Larry shoots at a security guard who kind of notices them after they’ve gotten away from the scene. So Teddy kills Larry and tells Gal to take care of the guard. Gal doesn’t kill this man but instead gives him some money and tells him to run. I’d expect that to come back around on him by the end of the series, but if it does I couldn’t see Teddy trusting Gal by the time we get to the events of the film.

It turns out that Gal’s sister, Ann Marie (Clea Martin) has been dating Larry, so now she’s wondering where he is. She also seems to have a drug problem, so that could be an issue in the future.

But regardless, Freddie McGraw (Nicholas Nunn) knows that Teddy is behind the thefts that have occurred (the second being that of a statuette that was previously stolen from the Royal Family). Yet, after Officer Dowd (James Barriscale) informs him of this, he shoots Dowd dead, and it doesn’t seem like he’s telling his dad about it. Freddie storms into Teddy’s club near the end of Episode 3 and points a gun in his face, but he runs away after Teddy says he was wondering what took him so long.

I guess all of that is supposed to stem from how Teddy raped Freddie in the previous episode, and I don’t want to veer into questioning whether it’s plausible for a rape victim to behave this way. Maybe it is, but regardless, this was the thing that bothered me the most in the first three episodes of Sexy Beast (2024), both in terms of how it colors Teddy’s character and in terms of how it’s employed as a plot device. It’s more than a little bit offensive, particularly when the victim is the character the series encourages us to hate the most. I didn’t care for it.

Overall, I suppose there are a lot of things I don’t care for in the first three episodes of this Sexy Beast prequel series, and I’ve spent most of this review laying them out. Nevertheless, I actually do find the series to be entertaining. Dee’s storyline is great, and I’m intrigued to see the fallout of her smacking Rocky (Samuel James) across the face for being an exploitative director. Aitch feels spot-on in terms of being the same character from the film, and I have my eyes peeled for Jackie. And Gal largely feels like Gal, even if the plot of this series hews so closely to that of the film as to constantly risk undermining it.

Aitch looks on, tired

I want to see what happens, so I’ll probably watch the rest of the series. I do wonder, though, if viewers who’ve never seen the movie might like it more than I do.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

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