With James Norton starring in McMafia, an upcoming BBC drama about a mob family, the country’s criminal image shows no sign of disappearing

In reality, very few Russians are sinister mobsters who poison their foes with polonium or dangle them from skyscraper balconies. But western TV and cinema are very different from reality. In the 21st century, their on-screen representations rarely break out of that sinisterly psychotic stereotype. When are TV Russians going to be the good guys? Never is the Guide’s guess. There’s too much popular cultural investment in depicting them as evil mobsters, as the implacably butch Other to relatively mimsy westerners.

In the centenary year of the Russian revolution, the west is still bewitched by this threat – specifically the mob, which seems bent on exporting its criminal values over here. And the fact that Russia is currently led by an ex-KGB demagogue who burnishes his masculinity issues by hunting half-naked and, according to the news media, may or may not have had a role in hacking the US presidential election, doesn’t help either.

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