The Real Casino Royale Review: When the chips are down

February 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

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realcasinoTHE REAL CASINO ROYALE, C4, Monday 23rd February, 10:00pm Alert Me

The Gangster and the Pervert Peer, the last one of Channel 4′s Toffs and Crims series that we saw, surprised us with its tenacity in digging up expired old scandals surrounding high society’s relationship with dodgy characters like the Kray twins. Generally, I’m not a fan of Channel 4′s pretend “documentaries”, which tend to be rather more of a shock fest than any kind of enlightening watch. It is refreshing, therefore, to find that The Real Casino Royale continues the Pervert Peer’s short legacy by being truly revelatory.

The film follows the gambling maven and Mayfair It boy John Aspinall’s career, from a bookmaker on the fringes of society through his mother’s marriage to a baronet to darling of the aristocracy – all because of his attachment to gambling.

It was Aspinall, after all, who essentially forced the government’s hand in legalising gambling after a hundred year hiatus. Without Aspinall we wouldn’t have high street betting shops, let alone super casinos, for better or worse. When his gambling dens, which had heretofore been protected by pay offs to the police by Lady Osbourne, Aspinall’s mother, were shut down and he was arrested, he contested his innocence fiercely in the courts and forced the law to declare him innocent and gambling of his particular brand – chemin-de-fer – legal.

There’s all kinds of grimy connections in Aspinall’s career – he was not above cheating his players with the help of Billy Hill, a notorious gangster, and he actively encouraged Lord Lucan’s ultimately fatal gambling addiction – so this film actually makes for an intriguing watch, and the dramatisations which pepper it are not as cringeworthy as they sound. In fact, they’re subtle and well-acted for the most part, though at one point it does slip into a Hustle-esque montage describing one of Aspinall’s wheezes.

Other than this little slip up, the Real Casino Royale is a perfectly decent piece of television. It only gets three and a half stars here because whilst it’s not as bad as I was expecting, it’s not exactly great TV. The Real Casino Royale is something to vegetate in front of, I feel, rather than watch with rapt attention.

By Chris Harding