I’m a big fan of Guy Ritchie’s 2000 boxing-heist-gangster film Snatch — its oddly specific London subcultures, its mumbling Brad Pitt, its cartoonishly self-serious characters with names like Brick Top and Boris the Blade — and the news last year that a Fargo-like series take on the film was in the works hit me somewhere between “meh” and “good Lord, no.” Step away from the icon.
To my surprise and absolute delight, creator and showrunner Alex De Rakoff steered the Snatch series well past the iceberg and into new territory for the Crackle streaming service. He hit many of the stylistic chords that made the film so distinctive by placing a new story, surprising twists, and new set of characters in an updated version of that world.
In the show’s cleverest convention — flashback cold openings at the beginning of each episode that build an impactful backstory and inform the episodes in subtle but important ways — De Rakoff paid homage to Ritchie’s film by anchoring those openings in the film’s world. The flashbacks set the stakes for Vic Hill [Dougray Scott] who is in prison in the present day for the gold heist that unfolds in the flashbacks. When son Albert Hill [Luke Pasqualino] finds the long-missing gold, he awakens many of the beasts who were responsible for its disappearance.
To talk about the ideas behind the series, making a TV show for an international audience and what lessons he took from Fargo’s successful series adaptation, Decider caught up with De Rakoff by phone from the U.K., where he’s working in the writer’s room on Season 2 of the series.
DECIDER: When I first saw that there was going to be an adaptation of Snatch into a TV series, I gotta say —
ALEX DE RAKOFF: You were like: Don’t do it! [Laughs.]
That’s exactly right. My first thought was that you can’t and shouldn’t make a movie like that into a TV series. You had to have had a reaction similar to that at the beginning, right?
I did, yeah. My initial reaction was that it could be career suicide. Snatch is such an iconic film and especially here in the U.K. How do you do something that invokes the spirit of a film like that, stays true to it and also carve out something that stands on its own two feet? Once I had an endpoint and started to think about characters and plot, I felt like I could do something with its own point of view that was still Snatch-y and irreverent.
How did you start? Were you pitching a Snatch series, or was Sony Pictures Television looking for ideas?
Sony has Snatch in its film library and started talking to creatives about how that could look as a television show. I had a previous relationship with Sony, and they called me in to pitch. I was developing an idea for a movie that was based around a real-life robbery here in the U.K. known as the Brink’s-Mat robbery where a group of gangsters broke into a warehouse thinking they were going to pull out a bunch of cash and ended up getting away with a large amount of gold bullion. I thought that would be a great jumping-off point for the show for these young hustlers finding their feet to land on something big with a lot of consequences.
Does the Snatch film exist in the world of the series? The flashback sequences in the series go back to around 2000, which is when the film premiered.
That was more of a subtle note. I think you’re the first person I’ve talked to who even noticed it. Vic Hill [played by Dougray Scott in the series] wasn’t in Snatch, but he would have been around at the time of the events in Snatch. In my mind, Vic Hill could have been a character in Snatch who would have known Turkish or Bullet-Tooth Tony.
I don’t think I had ever seen the framing device that you use at the beginning of each episode. You treat the flashbacks as a collection of connected short stories. Had you seen another show do that?
Not in that way. I’ve certainly seen shows that use cold openings as jumping-off points to introduce characters and narrative beats, but I hadn’t seen what we did. It was challenging because the end of the cold opens ties into the present-day part of the series, and we had to keep that flashback narrative going without revealing too much about how it turns out. Now that TV shows are evolving, you can play with structure and tone in different ways. There was some pushback from the studio initially because they thought it was way out of the box, so I had to fight for that.
Did you have a particular goal for those openings?
The initial idea was to tell the story of this gold over 15 years and have interesting twists in where it originates and who originally stole it. And then we started wrapping contemporary characters into the story who were contemporaries of Vic Hill 15 years ago and would become part of the story of the son — Albert Hill — and his gang. It was to track the old to the new through story and characters.
I’ve seen the movie Snatch probably 15 times, but I’ve never really thought of it as a big underground film in the United States. What kind of cultural space does it have in the U.K.?
It’s massive. It was an iconic film, and it defined a certain genre of storytelling and was a big deal for a lot of people here.
What do you think drove that? The visuals and the quick editing?
I think it was that and other stuff. Guy Ritchie is visually brilliant, and he took a lot of things that were happening at that time in music videos and other films and found a way to make them his own. The tone he coined, the larger-than-life characters that he played straight, it’s comedy and it’s drama, it’s these interconnecting stories, the mashup of cultures, the great timing — people just really responded to it.
What was the DNA of Snatch that you were most interested in bringing to the series? The boxing was obviously a big part of it.
It was the idea that a lot of dodgy characters do a lot of dodgy stuff in close proximity. I always though Snatch has a very neighborhood feel to it, that it’s spread across all these different boroughs of London. I really like that idea. We did that for the show, and I like that as a theme. Our gypsies are very different that the gypsies in Snatch, but I wanted to pay homage to that. In a TV show, you have more time to play with characters, and there’s a big family aspect to the show. We tried to take some of the things we really like from Snatch — the boxers, the gypsies, the heist — and forge our own path through the characters.
There are a lot of little nods to the film. You have a bit character named Tommy. You have a dog. Are there some of those that you were really glad to be able to reference?
I didn’t think as much about that. The dog is a big part of the movie, but I didn’t even think about that as a nod to the original. I’m sure it’s in my subconscious from seeing Snatch a bunch of times and watching it more as I was making the show, but it wasn’t a conscious decision to include a lot of those things.
Do you think there’s a difference between shows that are calibrated to do well in a particular market or demographic vs. shows that are intended to play well globally?
Yeah. Sony is an international studio with international markets, and this needs to be a global show. Snatch as a film did really well internationally. The Britishness of it exported well. My intention was to get a cast that looked and felt international in their backgrounds but also keep it British enough for people to think of it as a cool British world that they don’t see in prime-time television.
Had you seen the first season of FX’s Fargo series before you started writing Snatch?
I saw the first and second seasons.
Did you have any particular thoughts about Fargo‘s relationship to its movie that informed what you did with Snatch?
I did and especially with the second season. Season 1 of Fargo was good, and Season 2 was outstanding. It was a 10 of of 10 and amazing, amazing entertainment. It was the film and wasn’t the film, and it forged its own journey. There were notes of the film in geographic and character things, but it was Fargo as a television show and not as another version of the movie. It really forged a way for me to think about approaching a film as a series.
Do you know yet whether Season 2 of Snatch will be a continuation of Season 1 or something completely new?
We’re in the writer’s room now breaking the story. It’s a continuation, but it won’t be a continuation geographically. It may be set elsewhere. It will be some of the same characters, but it will be a different story. It’s not about the fallout from the gold heist.