Mobster Grandad: Jolly Jack Turner

Patrick Malahide as Jack Turner

Patrick Malahide as Jack Turner

Patrick Malahide played Jack Turner, an East End mobster turned multi-millionaire, in the first season of the 2012 BBC One/Cinemax series “Hunted“.  Turner is rather a study in contrasts:  he’s very astute in business matters and extremely driven to outbid several multi-national corporations for ownership of a dam in Pakistan (and is completely willing to get his hands dirty to do so in oh, so many ways), but he’s also completely devoted to his family.

We’re given much of Turner’s backstory in the first episode of “Hunted”, as he is the target of an elaborate undercover operation by a private mercenary organization called “Byzantium”.  Byzantium’s anonymous client at first just wants to know what Turner’s up to with the dam; this later changes to actively wanting to hinder, then stop his purchase of the dam, and when that doesn’t work out (due to Turner’s competence and incredible wariness) to seeking Turner’s death.

Old School Gangster

But Turner proves to be more than a match even for an entire group of well-trained… (sorry, can’t type that with a straight face!  LOL!!)  not-so-well-trained spies.  As played by Patrick Malahide, Jack Turner is a canny, suspicious foe who’s always thinking at least two steps ahead of any potential opposition, if not more.  As we learn during the series, he was a hardscrabble Cockney dockworker in the Seventies who managed to claw his way up the ladder, acquiring and selling docklands property and making modest gains until relatively recently, when his finances increase dramatically.  We also learn that extortion, intimidation, blackmail, and murder are among his preferred working methods.  Turner’s an old school gangster, and his enemies tend to end up dumped in the Thames with their throats cut.

A Doting Grandad

Turner as doting grandad: “See that, Eddie? They’re putting on fireworks especially for you.”

Turner as doting grandad: “See that, Eddie? They’re putting on fireworks especially for you.”

However, Turner has paid a significant price for his success:  his eldest son, John, was killed and horribly mutilated by Turner’s enemies as a warning, and Turner’s only remaining family are his younger son Stephen (played by Stephen Campbell Moore) and grandson Eddie (Oscar Kennedy), who live with Turner in his posh but heavily guarded and fortified Regent’s Park mansion.  Turner does seem to dote on Eddie, even if the stories he chooses to regale his grandson with are not exactly kid-friendly.  In one especially memorable scene, he blithely recounts a spectacular paint factory fire he saw as a boy that claimed the life of one of his little friends, who’d happened to start the fire, only breaking off the story (with a shrug of bewilderment) when admonished by Stephen.

Ruthless and Vicious

A bit of peacocking going on?

A bit of peacocking going on?

So, besides being the sort of fiendish millionaire grandad who’s quite happy to intimidate innocent hotel concierges on his grandson’s behalf and tell hair-raising stories,  Turner is also a very shrewd businessman and successful mobster.  When it comes to business dealings, he’s utterly ruthless and terrifying.  His friendly smiles are a sign of imminent danger (they usually mean he’s ready to dispose of you) and his menacing growls and frowns are even worse.  And Turner is not at all reluctant to get his own hands dirty; whether it’s savagely beating a suspected kidnapper with his bare fists or viciously bludgeoning an inconveniently honest professor with a bust of Karl Marx, he prefers the most direct (if impulsive) method to get rid of any obstacles.  He even seems to get a bit of a rush out of violence, though he’s always very matter-of-fact and practical in the aftermath. Turner consistently proves that the gap between dockworker and millionaire isn’t that large, and even his clothes seem to reflect his change of status.  They’re undeniably expensive and tailored to fit him to perfection, but he favours flamboyantly bright reds, purples, and blues for his striped shirts and ties, pairing them with equally bright polka-dotted suspenders.  There seems to be a bit of peacocking going on, which suits Turner’s personality perfectly.

Driven by a Need for Revenge

Acting from a desire for revenge

Acting from a desire for revenge

Throughout most of the series, Turner’s motivations seem consistent;  he loves his family and wants to do as much as he can to provide for them, even though he uses the same criminal ways and means by which he clawed his way out of poverty and achieved success.  We see indications of his attachment to his family and even get a vivid glimpse into his grief for his son John.  But this motivation is subverted in the final episode with the surprise revelation that he’s really been acting solely from a desire for revenge for the previous twenty years, a revelation that seems to come out of nowhere and be inserted mostly for shock value.  The final episode also undermines Turner’s love for his family with two more surprise shock-value revelations, which I found to be very inconsistent with his character up to that point.  As a matter of fact, they made me quite angry.

Shock Value Revelations

We’re told, without any previous hints or supporting story or characterization, that Turner had his son Stephen’s wife killed for fear she’d break up the family and take Stephen and Eddie away, and that he fathered an illegitimate, biracial son who’s become his number one thug and actually committed the murder on Turner’s order.  Both of these revelations come out of left field somewhere and really do nothing to advance the plot, except clumsily enhance Turner’s “badness” and make the purported “heroes” look better by comparison.

Up to this point, Byzantium has been remarkably ineffective against Turner.  He’s thwarted them at every point, has had contingency plans for nearly all outcomes, and has generally been two steps ahead the entire time.  He didn’t get to be an old crimelord by being incautious or stupid, and he’s neither.  By contrast, Byzantium has made numerous mistakes and even their so-called “best agent,” placed in Turner’s house, is discovered and identified early.  Byzantium has also shown itself to be amazingly unconcerned about innocent bystanders and collateral damage in its pursuit of Jack Turner;  apparently the paycheque they’re getting from their anonymous client outweighs any such petty matters.  There’s some lip service paid to this by having a couple of the agents briefly express regret or doubt about what they’re doing – but they do it anyway.  It seems that the audience is being encouraged to see Byzantium as the lesser of two evils, but it’s hard to be on the side of a corporation that will do anything for an anonymous paying client, regardless of what that client’s motives or purposes are.

Not an Innocent Man

Not that Turner’s an innocent man – far from it!  But he’s a much more charismatic and interesting character than his opponents (and more intelligent!), with an undeniable appeal even while he’s at his most terrifying.  He does bad things – very bad things – but he still has qualities the audience can relate to:  his grief over the loss of his eldest son, his love for his son and grandson, and his utter determination to do what he can for them.  Patrick Malahide makes these qualities believable and relatable, but there’s not much even he can do with the unasked-for, pointless “gotcha” revelations about Turner’s bastard son and the murder of Stephen’s wife, which seem to have been written in only to erode Turner’s attractiveness.  I could believe a desire for revenge as a motivation, if it was properly supported (or at least hinted at!) in the lead-up, but these other two “plot twists” are soap opera clichés that go nowhere and do nothing to advance the story.

Turner’s Downfall

Turner in defeat

Turner in defeat

As a villain, Turner does get a comeuppance, though interestingly enough, it’s not due to any of Byzantium’s actions throughout the entire series.  The only “op” they actually complete successfully is placing Sam Hunter (Melissa George) in Turner’s house in the first place, and even that is quickly uncovered.  Turner’s downfall is entirely due to the actions of an independent third party, the Blank-Faced Man (Scott Handy), and I would argue (I have argued) that given how careful and paranoid Turner is, and the fact that we’ve seen the way he approaches contingency plans, even this defeat would not or should not have occurred, except by contrivance.  He loses the dam and believes he has failed to avenge his son John, the driving purpose of his life for the past twenty years.  The only vengeance he can carry out is against Sam – but due to a couple more convenient (read: awkwardly shoehorned) contrivances, he’s denied that as well.  It’s a very cheap, unsatisfying, and pointless end for a great character.

A Charismatic and Appealing Performance

Jack TurnerAs the purported “bad guy”, Jack Turner is the best thing about “Hunted” and Patrick Malahide’s portrayal is the only reason I kept watching.  He’s just fascinating, whether he’s terrifying a soon-to-be-disposed-of ally with a friendly smile, or growling menacingly when he needs to emphasize a point.  Most of the best scenes in the entire show are between Malahide and Campbell Moore, who give us extremely convincing and emotional father-son arguments where the father knows just which of his son’s buttons to push.  And Malahide also gives us a brief glimpse of Turner as a father in mourning, whose grief is still raw and has become something quite dangerous.  It’s hard to explain how such a frightening man can be so charismatic and attractive, but Patrick Malahide achieves it.

Jack Turner appeared in the following episodes of “Hunted”:

  1. Mort
  2. LB
  3. Hourglass
  4. Kismet
  5. Ambassadors
  6. Polyhedrus
  7. Khyber
  8. Snow Maiden

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