Alan Waldman :
Dramatic Brit series ‘Chancer’ introduced me to dynamic leading man Clive Owen

Owen is a lovable con man who helps pals out of jams, plots against slimy villains, and romances lovely ladies in this fine 1990-’91 series.


Chancer recounts the adventures of likable con man and rogue Stephen Crane.

By Alan Waldman | The Rag Blog | March 10, 2014

[In his weekly column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, and Scotland. Most are available on DVD and/or Netflix, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

Chancer is a British television drama that offers us theft, gambling, plots and counter-plots, revenge, betrayal, imprisonment, insider trading, embezzlement, paternity questions, suspected arson, and seduction — all the things American audiences crave.

In 20 episodes, split into two series, all on Netflix, Chancer tells the adventures of likable con man and rogue Stephen Crane (Clive Owen) at the end of the yuppie eighties. When his under-the-table dealings get him fired from a London bank, Crane finds work managing the turnaround of a troubled automobile manufacturer. But no matter how desperately he tries to keep his checkered past hidden, it continues to hunt him down.

Waldman’s film and TV treasures you may have missed

Crane, a smooth-talking, seriously shady financial wiz, is hounded by ex-employer James Blake (Leslie Phillips) and vicious rival Tom Franklyn (Peter Vaughan), but he manages to keep his many schemes afloat until his explosive secrets are revealed.

In Season 2, after spending six months in prison for insider trading, Stephen reverts to his real name, Derek Love, and searches for his ex-girlfriend Jo, intent on winning her back. Meanwhile, he teams up with former rival Piers to start a casino. In this final season, Derek cheats more people out of money, starts a new romance, competes with new rivals, and finds out surprising secrets from his past.

I had difficulty finding a full episode on You Tube, but here is a scene.

The cast of Chancer is truly outstanding. Clive Owen was Oscar-nominated for Closer and had 16 other wins and 17 more noms for works including Hemingway & Gellhorn, Children of Men, Gosford Park, and Inside Man. His 64 film credits include the outstanding film Croupier,  which I previously reviewed on The Rag Blog.

Owen’s oily nemesis is played by Leslie Phillips, who has 161 credits and three award wins and two noms for Venus. Clive’s rival, Peter Vaughn, one of my favorite Brit character actors, has an astonishing 217 credits; he earned two nominations for Our Friends in the North.

The rest of the cast contains a who’s who of Brit thespians I love. They include:
Susannah Harker (who earned a BAFTA Best Actress nom for the brilliant original British House of Cards), Simon Shepard (A Touch of Frost), Robert Glenister (Hustle), Stephen Tompkinson (Ballykissangel),  Louise Lombard (The House of Eliott), Lynsey Baxter (Pie in the Sky), Derek Fowlds (Yes Minister/Prime Minister),  Jonathan Coy (Rumpole of the Bailey), Michael Kitchen (Foyle’s War), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) David Haig, (The Thin Blue Line) and Eleanor Bron (Absolutely Fabulous).

This was a very engaging drama with lots of interesting twists, and it was very apparent to my then-wife and me that Clive Owen was going to be a major talent. Watching this early effort of his is a major pleasure, which I highly recommend.

[Oregon writer and Houston native Alan Waldman holds a B.A. in theater arts from Brandeis University and has worked as an editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Honolulu magazine. Read more of Alan Waldman’s articles on The Rag Blog.]

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