The Gallows Pole review: BBC period drama directed by Shane Meadows

Benjamin Myers’ 2017 novel “The Gallows Pole” told the “true-life tale of the 18th century gang of coin clippers led by ‘King’ David Hartley, whose illegal work and attendant violence came to dominate Cragg Vale in West Yorkshire”, said Lucy Mangan in The Guardian. Now, it’s been turned into a three-part BBC drama directed by Shane Meadows (“This is England”) – and it’s a treat. 

We meet David (Michael Socha) as he is returning to his home village after a long absence, with a stab wound in his side and an idea for how to make some money. If you clip a tiny bit of gold from ten coins, he tells his family and friends, you can melt the trimmings and create an 11th coin, thus delaying “starvation, eviction and untimely death”. So “who’s in?” Meadows’ take “keeps all the energy, density and fortitude of the book, but adds the missing humour”. It’s a drama “of rare quality in every sense”. 

Meadows’ first proper period drama has his usual rough and ready improvisation (plus some of his favourite actors). But while some people will love it, I was disappointed, said Ben Dowell in The Times. The actors don’t seem “entirely at ease in their dirty tricorn hats and heavy boots”, and the script is full of repetitive “yammering”. 

You do wonder if Meadows is that interested in either “the period or the book”, said Benji Wilson in The Daily Telegraph; but the “performances, the humour and just the life that he manages to capture on film are irresistible. This is a gang that, within half-an-hour, you want to join.”

Where to watch: BBC Two/iPlayer