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Dubai in new BBC gangster series ‘McMafia’

The upcoming TV show stars James Norton and films across the globe

Image Credit: BBC/Cuba Pictures/Nick Wall
Maria Shukshina and James Norton in McMafia.
Tabloid

A new gangster series starring James Norton (Happy Valley, War & Peace) is arriving to the BBC. And one episode is set in Dubai.

McMafia is an eight-part TV series based on the 2008 non-fiction novel McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld by British journalist Misha Glenny.

Iranian-British screenwriter Hossein Amini, who is adapting the book to the silver screen, said it’s a huge scale gangster story.

“It’s not just drugs. It’s drugs, people-smuggling, money-laundering, hacking — all of those elements,” he said, speaking to Gulf News tabloid! at the BBC Showcase in Liverpool on February 20.

McMafia will likely wrap filming in June/July and air at the end of the year/beginning of 2018.

It shoots in Moscow, Cairo, Tel Aviv, London, Istanbul, Croatia and India.

The team are still waiting to hear back on whether they can film in the UAE. The Dubai episode will revolve around a meeting between two gangsters, said Amini.

“As the world is evolving, people from all over the world are meeting [in Dubai]. It seemed to absolutely represent this future world we were moving to,” he added.

Amini, whose wife is Irish and kids are mixed, said he “come[s] from that background” himself.

He was captivated by Glenny’s book because it stepped away from the hyper-localised gangster genre as seen on the Sopranos, which took place predominantly in New Jersey.

“I love the Sopranos, but it felt like it was saying, ‘This is the end of the gangster, and this is the end of the gangster genre.’ And I think what we’re trying to say is, ‘This is the birth of the new gangster.’ It’s very much that the new gangster works on a global scale,” said Amini.

While writing the book, Glenny researched in places such as South Africa and the UAE in order to “get the cultural specifics of each country, and their history, and their background” down correctly.

There had been previous bids to turn McMafia into a film or an American TV series. But Amini was the first to follow through on an adaptation. Glenny felt that Amini’s Iranian roots lent themselves to the culturally-specific writing.

“For me, that’s really important: that this is not an Anglo or Americana-centric piece of work. It’s a global piece of work,” he said.

Amini said his most important task was mastering tone. It had to be a mix between the mundane and the extreme. The gangsters were like businessmen: they wore nice suits, stayed in fancy hotels and looked like bankers.

“If they’re setting next to you, you’d never know,” he said. “They could either be working for Goldman Sachs or the cartel.”

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