Any mention of the words ‘British gangster film’ is invariably meet with a weary sigh amongst most UK cinema-goers. Those tired, almost exclusively London-centric series of films now sit on the lower rungs of the cinematic ladder, with the majority of releases being consigned to the small screen and jockeying for position amongst the similarly listless competition. Every once in a while however, a film comes along to wrestle the sub-genre back from the jaws of mediocrity, which is the case with editor Andrew Hulme’s riveting directorial debut. Making its first appearance at last year’s London Film Festival, Snow in Paradise is a downbeat but absorbing tale based on the real-life exploits of a young thug’s escape from his unsavoury world through Islam.

While the film itself may not be wholly original (you can certainly spot the likes of Performance and Gangster Number 1 seeping through) it’s a thoroughly welcome respite from those ten a penny mockney yarns, benefiting immensely form the star-making turn by lead Frederick Schmidt. With a physical appearance akin to that of Tom Hardy’s grubby and gangly strung-out younger cousin, Schmidt’s Dave is a foolish, arrogant and aimless young man with a fondness for the crack pipe and an entry into the criminal underground via his uncle (played by co-writer and partial real-life model for the main character, Martin Askew, who offers up an effectively skin-crawling turn). Bringing his best mate along to a drug exchange, Dave makes the idiotic mistake of getting high on the supply which results in tragic consequences. Seeking refuge in the local mosque, his attempts at avoiding the consequences of his actions proves to be (unsurprisingly) problematic.

Hulme, who cut his teeth as an editor on a number of well-received UK features (amongst them, the aforementioned Gangster No. 1, Control and The Imposter) has been able to make that successful transition between departments, exhibiting a solid craftsmanship behind the lens. The film is strong on mood, well-paced and manages to offer moments of quiet, brooding introspection. The director and his co-scribe conjure up a strong sense of place in their depiction of an East End. They reference the gentrified hipster haven it has become without shying away from the festering remnants of another age, evident in the grotty pubs, where cheap, pink champagne is guzzled and lines of coke are indiscriminately hovered up off the edges of the bar by deluded criminal wannabes.

This is the only world the main character knows and Schmidt, who is in every frame of the film, gives a towering and candid turn, offering a captivating rawness in the mould of fellow British thesp Jack O’Connell (whom he co-starred with in Starred Up). This is coupled with that slow sobering decent into self-abasement, akin to Michael Fassbender’s character in the latter stages of Shame. There’s certainly little in the way of levity here, and you may feel inclined to take a long shower afterwards, but there’s no denying the film’s power. Snow in Paradise feels timely (Dave’s acceptance by the faith he accidentally chances upon, nicely counters the recent negative portrayals of the religion in the media) and is imbued with a genuine sense of menace and a powerful authenticity which has been long absent from those works covering similar terrain.