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The Take 

The Take debuts tonight on Encore at 9 p.m. Eastern.

Encore has a really funny way of defining the phrase “original event.”

Back in the summer of 2011, the network excitedly trumpeted their airing of a new version of Moby Dick starring Ethan Hawke and William Hurt as an “original event,” only to concede under questioning during the TCA panel for the production that, indeed, the two-part miniseries had actually already aired in some areas of the world. This put Stephan Shelanski, executive VP of programming for Starz Entertainment, momentarily under fire, but he sidestepped accusations that the network was billing the production as a “world première” by explaining, “We just know that it has had very limited exposure worldwide, and the vast majority of the world, the rest of the territories, will be premièring it following our première in August.”

Fair enough. But that excuse certainly doesn’t hold up when discussing The Take. Unless, of course, you still consider it to be an event when a network premières a four-episode miniseries that’s been available on Region 1 DVD since April 2010. (Seriously, you can rent it from Netflix right now.)

Oh, take it easy, Encore. We’re just messing with you. Besides, given how much brighter Tom Hardy’s star is shining now than it was when you acquired the property—Behold the power of Bane!—no one blames you for trying to make the most of this series, especially since the thing stands or falls almost entirely on the strength of Hardy’s performance.

Based on the crime thriller by Martina Cole, the events of The Take span 10 years over the course of its four episodes, exploring the highs and lows of the relationship between rough-and-tumble ex-con Freddy Jackson (Hardy) and his decidedly less intense cousin, Jimmy (Shaun Evans). As the proceedings open, Freddy is only just getting out from behind bars, and as he steps through the prison gates and back into society, Jimmy’s waiting with a car to take him home. It’s immediately evident that Freddy holds the upper hand in the relationship, treating Jimmy like the kid he undoubtedly was when Freddy started his sentence, and, similarly, Jimmy falls back into the old routine of subservience without hesitation. It doesn’t take long, however, for Jimmy—who’s decidedly more mature now than he was when he last saw Freddy—to start hemming and hawing a bit over Freddy’s grotesquely violent tendencies.

Prison has done little to curb Freddy’s interest in criminal activity. Indeed, if anything, the experience has only served to strengthen his desire to rise through the ranks, his ultimate goal to enjoy the same sort of power as Ozzy (Brian Cox), who continues to serve as the head of the crime family even as he serves time. Ozzy is well aware that Freddy’s notorious instability can prove beneficial in their line of work, but only up to a point, which is why he maintains a separate line of communication with Jimmy, so that the latter can do his best to keep Freddy in check… as if such a thing was even possible.

Freddy’s not just a criminal. He’s a full-fledged sadist, tendencies which come into play both in business and in his personal life. Although he attempts to keep up the façade of a semi-normal family by remaining married to his long-suffering wife Jackie (Kierston Wareing), who’s effectively a single mother to their children, he doesn’t hesitate to sleep with any other woman that catches his eye. Mind you, we’re talking about Freddy here, so “sleep with” is occasionally just another way of saying “rape.” In addition, the tensions between Freddy and Jimmy continue to grow over the years due to Jimmy’s ability to continue his life of crime while still maintaining a happy family with his wife (and Jackie’s sister), Maggie (Charlotte Riley), with apparent ease. There are more than a few ups and downs in the Maggie/Jackie relationship by the time the saga of The Take reaches its conclusion, with Maggie definitely proving to be the more sympathetic sister, but given Freddy’s far from deft touch when it comes to handling his interpersonal relationships, it should come as no surprise to learn that neither woman has it particularly easy.

When watching The Take, comparisons to any number of crime sagas are easily (and regularly) made, including The Godfather, Casino, The Long Good Fridaym and Sexy Beast—I’m not even sure it qualifies as a spoiler to hint that there could well be a showdown between Freddy and Jimmy by the end of the series—but although the often-derivative material means that it’s unlikely to hold up for repeat viewings, there’s certainly a kick-ass homemade compilation to be made simply by editing together Hardy’s performances. Although Freddy regularly steps beyond being an antihero and veers into full-on despicableness, Hardy imbues the character with a presence that’s impossible to ignore when he’s on the screen, whether you like him or not.

Rest assured, however, that if you don’t like Freddy by the end of the first episode of The Take, you’d best bow out of watching the subsequent installments as Encore rolls them out over the course of the next three Friday evenings. Trust me, he only gets worse.