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Ken Stott is one of my favourite British TV actors. He single-handedly transformed The Vice from just another cop series to a much more human drama and was extremely popular with his three feature-length Messiah dramas, but has generally only enjoyed fairly small movie roles, including parts in films like the Clive Owen thriller I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.

Spivs
Film
Spiv—definition—Man, especially a flashily dressed one, living from shady dealings

In Spivs, Ken Stott plays Jack, the leader of a disparate group of London con men who scam businessmen out of their money. His team comprises his protégé Steve, Steve’s brother-in-law Goat and the sexy Jenny, and they are happily ticking over with their current line of operations when, all of a sudden, they hit a problem. A consignment of goods that they rip off actually turns out to be a trailer full of trouble and they find themselves in rather a lot of bother with the Russian mafia.

Although initially you might be forgiven for mistaking this for a big-screen rip-off of the BBC series Hustle, these cons are far from doing it all in the name of ‘good’. This is not a modern day Robin Hood and his merry men, but rather a bunch of out and out crooks. What makes the movie different, unsurprisingly, is Ken Stott’s Jack. Playing it as a moderately apocryphal look at a spiv—who are renowned for both their nostalgic behaviour and soft spot for children—Jack becomes the only one you can relate to, a middle-aged decent bloke who simply practices his profession outside of the confines of the law. In fact, he’s the only one who seems to be a true spiv at heart (allegedly they are known for their simple reliable small-time cons), his compatriots ever eager on the big game and the big bucks. On top of all that, it turns out that there are far worse people than him around, and before long he becomes the anti-hero, even good guy, in the show.

Spivs
Of course Stott’s isn’t the only decent actor here, although he is my favourite (even if his put-on accent takes a little getting used to), there are many noteworthy players. The deceptive seductress member of the team, Catherine, is played by Kate Ashfield (who you may recognise as the girlfriend in Shaun of the Dead), Jack’s protégé Steve is played by Nick Moran (Baby Juice Express), and the stoner Goat is played by Dominic Monaghan (Merry from the The Lord Of The Rings trilogy). Then there are also some big British comic names playing their victims—the great Jack Dee, and the underrated Paul Kaye—both playing it relatively straight here. They’re all good British actors and it is nice that they have all come together for this production. Spivs may not be everybody’s kettle of fish—it’s no Lock, Stock or Snatch—but for those fond of their good, solid British drama, it’s worth a look.

Video
The film is presented in an unusually broad (for this side of the ocean) 2.35:1 aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer, which makes what would otherwise be mistaken for TV material look much more cinematic. Nevertheless it does no harm to the impact of the drama, often adding a breadth and style to the proceedings. The main ‘con’ scenes will be familiar in their split-screen use to those of you who watch the phenomenal Kiefer Sutherland series, 24, coming off as slightly better than just the gimmick that they could have been if used too much. There is no grain apparent, even in the darker scenes or with pouring rain. The detail is good throughout, clarity maintained both on faces and wider location shots. And the colours are also good, with quite a broad scheme even with the restrictions of the British weather. The blacks are also very solid and overall it is a very good transfer with no sign of dust, dirt or defects.

Spivs
Audio
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a similarly solid effort, keeping the dialogue at the forefront, through the fronts and centre, and allowing the fairly mediocre score to bring up the rears. There is very little bass on offer here and even the effects are few and far between, giving the surrounds little to do, but with the dialogue and score being the most important items on offer, it is good that they are at least presented well. This is not an outstanding track by any standards, but it is perfectly adequate given the material, and even occasionally manages to get you in the mood of the particular cons that are going on or the action that is taking place.

Extras
First up there is an audio commentary with the director / writer Colin Teague and the co-writer Gary Young. They cover all of the standard material—talking about locations and set design, and going through the entire cast praising each and every one of them. The background into how they came up with the con tricks—from books and the history of spivs—and how they updated them is quite interesting, and it is nice to hear a little more depth into what makes the characters tick as well—comparing Ken Stott’s Jack to George Cole’s Arthur Daily. Similarly the talk about the alternate scenes that were devised, and even the original ending, makes for interesting listening. They both seem very proud of the film and almost a little too arrogant about it at times—similarly their relentless praise for everybody who worked on it is at times a little indiscriminate. Overall there are a few anecdotes—how the Mercedes they used was stolen on set one day—and some nice trivia—like the references to Get Carter and Ken Stott’s turn as Hitler—but they can be a bit rambling at times. If you liked the film, it might be worth absorbing this in small doses.

Spivs
Next up there is a sixteen-minute featurette with contributions from all of the major cast and crew, talking about the production. Ken Stott, Nick Moran, Kate Ashfield, Dominic Monaghan and Jack Dee all pop up, along with the director, writer, editor, production designer and director of photography. They discuss the characters and the script, explaining what a spiv is and going into some of the cons they use as well. They spend a great deal of time talking about things that you already know, and the featurette is neither informative enough to tell you much new nor subtle enough not to give away too much to those who have not seen the main feature. Still, it is nice to se contributions from all of those involved and a couple of the gags, mainly involving Dominic Monaghan, are quite funny.

Finally there is a ninety-second trailer for the main feature which does not give too much away—for a change—and actually paints quite an accurate picture of the mood and style of film.

Spivs
Overall
If you like your British TV—notably Hustle—and you appreciate British talent, this movie will be a little gem that you should pick up straight away. The video and audio specifications are good and the extras are more than you would normally expect for a movie like this, which is refreshing. For those unfamiliar with the talent of Ken Stott, or unsure of anything British not done in the style of Guy Richie, this provides a nice introduction that at least warrants a rental.


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