THere’s a recurring image in Once Upon a Time in Londongrad (Sky Documentaries/Now): a shot taken in 2014 in central London, outside a serenely expensive former apartment block nestled between the Swedish and Swiss embassies. A section of the handsome iron railings that separate the property from the pavement is missing, replaced by a conspicuous mass of carelessly applied police tape.
The railings have been removed because the British property speculator Scot Young He recently fell out of his fourth-story window and impaled himself. This death is then investigated by Heidi Blake and her team of journalists at BuzzFeed, a trail that leads to a Pulitzer nomination, Blake’s book From Russia in Blood, and now this shocking six-part book.
Not that it matters much when each installment is a half hour and everything is available as a streaming box set, but Once Upon a Time in Londongrad takes its time showing its hand. Episode one introduces us to Young, a motivated moneymaker who, chasing ever-increasing profits, ended up wire transferring funds for Russian tycoons. Episode two tells us where some of those Russians came from, and describes how the fall of the Soviet Union created a new wave of billionaires as public assets were flogged, for a fraction of their value, to whoever had the biggest brown envelopes. thick.
Then Vladimir Putin turned out not to be the weak stooge the oligarchs had hoped for, exit plans were made and large amounts of dirty money landed in the city where questions were least likely to be asked: London. The most charismatic exile was Boris Berezovskywhose plot against Putin included a brazen attempt to anonymously invest in a Moscow real estate development by funneling his stake through one of the project’s main investors: Scot Young.
Oh, so this is a documentary about why Young died, and Berezovsky is the answer? Something like. Berezovsky commits suicide at his Surrey home in 2013, suffering a broken rib and head injury in the process. Then, about halfway through Once Upon a Time in Londongrad, comes the real story. BuzzFeed identifies not one, not two, but 14 deaths on British soil between 2003 and 2016 of people who may have angered the Putin regime. Two fall in front of subway trains; one dies in a helicopter crash. A man in his 40s collapses while jogging. Another stabs himself many times with two knives. In 2010, the MI6 analyst Gareth Williams it is found stuffed in a zippered travel bag, padlocked and placed in the bathroom of his Pimlico apartment.
In all cases, the official verdict is suicide or natural causes, and in statements given to the show’s makers by the police and the British government, it is reiterated that no direct evidence of Russian involvement has been found. However, BuzzFeed repeatedly uncovers instances of missing, misplaced, or withheld evidence, or apparently unconducted basic research. If such things are incompetence or coincidence, they are incompetence or coincidence which always point to nothing to see. You don’t need a paranoid mindset to feel like Jack Nicholson in Chinatownhelplessly watching a shady and evil system in action.
It is only at the end of the series that Once Upon a Time in Londongrad explicitly discusses the central problem: allowing London to become a murky repository of Russian money is likely to imply a reluctance to act on any unseemly consequences, and that this governance weakness threatens seriously both the rule of law and our democratic integrity.
However, this larger theme is sufficiently hinted at by the specific story of the 14 deaths. BuzzFeed’s inquisitive young journalists are the dominant interviewees and if sometimes Once Upon a Time in Londongrad is just a few people who wrote a few articles telling you what was in them, that’s not a bad thing when the content is such hot true crime. /conspiracy fireball. Given BuzzFeed’s status as a fleeting outage within the media industry, which has turned to investigative journalism, having previously specialized in memes for bored 20-somethings, there’s an extra twist in the way one of the team, Tom Warren, literally doesn’t speak with the careful formality one expects. . in this genre, you know? But what he’s saying is, like, profoundly consistent, nonetheless.
As a result of the salisbury poisoningswhich were obviously a Russian operation to be ignored, Young and the others were put on the parliament list. Russian intelligence and security committee report in 2020… but the relevant sections were heavily redacted. The controversy simply became a pothole, a gap in some railings that could easily be passed over. This series tugs at our sleeves and demands that we look again.