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Guy Ritchie serves up a meaty thriller-comedy series on Netflix with 'The Gentlemen'

NEW YORK (AP) — When we first meet the hero of Guy Ritchie's new Netflix series, he's not exactly what you'd expect from a Guy Ritchie hero. He's a peacekeeper for the United Nations, under orders to de-escalate tensions. Can that really last, this being a Guy Ritchie series? Doubtful.

“The Gentlemen,” a captivating mix of menacing thriller, satire, soap opera, gangster caper and absurdist humor, will eventually have blood splashing on walls, but it delights in the promise of violence more than the acts themselves.

“Like ‘Jaws,’” says cast member Max Beesley. “You don’t see that shark for an hour and a quarter of the film. But the idea of it is terrifying, you know? And I think that’s quite clever.”

“The Gentlemen,” a sort of British take on “Breaking Bad,” follows an English aristocrat who inherits his family's asset-rich but cash-poor estate and farm only to discover that it also has a massive secret weed farm, run by gangsters. At the same time, he urgently needs to bail his bumbling older brother out of massive debt to even more gangsters.

How the newly titled duke navigates this criminal underworld propels the eight episodes. “Without knowing it, you have stepped into a world that you are not familiar with," he is told. The series begins streaming Thursday.

Theo James stars as the duke, and he says he loved the “idea of a man falling down a rabbit hole and learning to love violence and power and what that means.”

James says, “He thinks he knows power because he’s been in the army and he’s part of the aristocracy, but he realizes power comes in many different forms.”

“The Gentlemen” has Ritchie’s typical examinations of criminality, but it’s less hyperkinetic and frantic than many of his films like "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” allowing scenes to breathe and characters to deepen. The body count is even lower.

“We’re used to seeing Guy Ritchie in 90 minutes — it’s hard cuts and bombastic, which this is. But we had to make sure that we had characters that felt that they could live through eight episodes and beyond,” says James.

The series has been spun off from the writer-director's 2019 film of the same name and features con jobs, a man dancing in a chicken suit, the always-welcome presence of Vinnie Jones, manic murder chases, gagged hostages, a Lamborghini heist, some beheadings and a soundtrack of choirs chanting religious text.

“We’ve just been given a much bigger canvas,” says Beesley. “The strokes are as thick, the paint is as thick. It’s just a multi-multifaceted bit of drama that incorporates everything that I think audiences like — drama, comedy, action. It’s all in there.”

In Ritchie’s world, the low-class gangsters who wear tracksuits are the same as the snooty upper classes who wear $50,000 three-piece suits — both groups cultured enough to appreciate the design of a classic Mercedes and a properly decanted 2002 Romanée-Conti.

“He’s making the point that the British landed gentry aristocracy really are the original gangsters of the British class society,” says Daniel Ings, who plays the duke's older brother. “There’s kind of like a need to fight for survival in both of those worlds.”

The series also stars Joely Richardson, Giancarlo Esposito, Shane Walker and Kaya Scodelario, who plays Susie, a very cool but very non-nonsense underworld captain, who says things like: “Once you start the killing, you have to finish the killing.”

“It was one of the rare times where I instantly knew I wanted to play this character with every fiber of my being. I kind of loved her immediately and wanted to get under her skin. I just knew that I could bring something to her and that she would be exciting,” Scodelario says.

“Especially in this world — this Guy Ritchie universe where a lot of times the focus has been on these male characters — I thought would be really fun and interesting to introduce Susie, who can kind of go toe to toe with all of them.”

The series — written by Ritchie and Matthew Read and with the first two episodes directed by Ritchie — enjoys refinement with aggression, which is the title of the pilot episode and could be Ritchie’s calling card here. There is also his characteristic quirky sense of humor.

“Finding that line between the ridiculous and the benign — finding hilarity, but not too hard on the silliness so the stakes are not lost, but then finding drama but not too dramatic so it becomes melodramatic in any way — weaving that line was always a very specific and quite complex thing to do,” says James.

The cast hopes the series can find a worldwide audience despite being rooted in the grand estates of England. It is, after all, about more than a just a duke bluffing his way through the world of criminals.

“The heart of it for me is that it’s a family drama,” says Scodelario. “It’s all these different families realizing that they all need each other to coexist, and they want to protect their family above everything else. And I think that’s just a really interesting narrative.”

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits