Released in 1998, Guy Ritchie's voyage into the East End underworld is an immensely enjoyable and energetic modern classic, even if it's as authentically gorblimey as its creator. A quartet of friends led by Eddy (Nick Moran) pool their savings for a card game with porn baron Hatchet Harry (P.H. Moriarty), who has fixed the odds in his favour.
Minutes later, Eddy is £500,000 down, with fellow debtors Bacon (Jason Statham), Tom (Jason Flemyng) and Soap (Dexter Fletcher) in despair. But when they hear that Eddy's drug-dealing neighbours are about to rob a rival and pocket the proceeds, they decide to hijack the haul for themselves. Local gang leader Rory (Vas Blackwood) has also taken an interest in the haul, unaware that Harry's enforcer, Big Chris (Vinnie Jones), is on everyone's tail, and demanding a slice of the action for himself...
Off screen, Ritchie owed his own figurative debt (to The Italian Job, Martin Scorsese and Ealing comedy) and a literal debt to his private financiers, who came close to seeing the film disappear without a UK release. Within a year it had taken £11 million, fuelled by incredulity that a homegrown project could be so rewarding. The blend of violence and comedy belies the team's inexperience, with Ritchie's apprenticeship served on minor commercials and pop promos, and the editor poached from work on Thomas the Tank Engine.
The performances are excellent. Jones delivers a knockout debut, while the late Lenny McLean (alias "The Guv'nor" - a Kray twins contemporary and bare-knuckle fighter) offers a ferocity that seems more practised than rehearsed. Moriarty lends yet more menace with echoes of his performance in The Long Good Friday.