In Spotlight: Joe Cole's top movies and TV shows – 6 of his best roles you should watch, from Peaky Blinders to Gangs of London

We round up actor Joe Cole’s top six roles. Discover his best movies and TV shows here.

By Adam Pochin Published: 15 December 2022 - 10.02am
Joe Cole Gangs of London

Gangs Of London seasons 1-2 are streaming on Sky Atlantic with NOW.

Joe Cole is starting to become a household name in the British entertainment world. His role as John Shelby in the insanely popular period crime drama Peaky Blinders, set in Birmingham, elevated Joe Cole’s career and gave him a well-earned chance to shine.

Cole seems to have stuck by this genre and continued down a gritty path with his career by mixing his roles from modern to historic, between television and film.

Growing up in Kingston upon Thames, London, Cole is the oldest sibling of five boys including fellow Peaky Blinder, Finn Cole who plays Michael Gray.

Joe Cole’s acting career started when he was accepted into the National Youth Theatre which is part of the West End. 

Although he is mostly known for gangster and crime roles, he has the versatility for other genres and character types too. He’s able to adapt his performances to a range of themes such as suspense, thriller, romance and comedy.

Like most actors that start with stage and then television, he’s now being recognised and cast in films too, where’s able to take his acting to the next level to the big screen and raise his game.

Here we’re going to bring you our top six favourite roles that Joe Cole has undertaken across TV and film so far in his promising career.

1. Gangs of London - Sean Wallace

Joe Cole’s role in Gangs of London is a lead one and one in which Cole can showcase his acting abilities and style to the viewers.

He has an unsettling aura about him in the show which leans into the character’s persona as a mob boss that is ruthless, clinical and dangerous.

A popular figure and fan favourite in the show, due to his cold and ruthless nature, Sean Wallace is a young leader in the London underworld of crime.

Certainly, a milestone role for Cole in his young career and one that has promise to take his career to even further heights.

Stream Gangs of London seasons 1-2 on Sky Atlantic with NOW.

2. Peaky Blinders – John Shelby

BBC iPlayer

Many viewers most likely saw Joe Cole on their screens for the first time in Steven Knight’s crime period drama Peaky Blinders, where he played Birmingham gang member John Shelby.

This breakthrough role saw him pit his acting talents alongside renowned stars Cillian Murphy, the late Helen McCrory, and more.

Mob warfare, smart suits and societies many vices were all rolled into Peaky Blinders, and Cole was a central figure amongst it.

His raw and brash style of acting developed in parallel with the show’s ambition. The unapologetic nature of the show and the charm of characters like John boy is much behind the rise in popularity amongst viewers.

Cole can harness his own large kinship from his personal life and bring it to this role in which family comes first. John being the youngest sibling to Thomas and Arthur Shelby, they have a close and unbreakable bond.

The brothers' unique blend of comradery from time spent in the military, along with their aspirations for control of their city and beyond, makes for thrilling television.

In the four seasons that Cole features as John Shelby, his character takes no time in leaving his mark upon the popular show.

Plenty of fights, robberies, entanglements and dodgy dealings before his demise at the hands of the Italian mob. John Shelby was certainly a fan favourite and this role propelled Cole’s career.

Watch all seasons of Peaky Blinders on BBC iPlayer.

 

3. Against The Ice – Iver Iversen

Lilja Jonsdottir/Netflix

This Netflix survival film is based on a true story about two men’s harrowing venture to the north of Greenland, a tough journey against the bitter elements - and it's a brutal story of endurance in the face of natural adversity.

Joe Cole adapts his acting abilities into this genre to show the viewers an honest portrayal of the struggle with the wilderness. Taking himself out of his comfort zone with his type of role, this also reflects the hugely uncomfortable situation that his character Iver Iversen finds himself on this mission.

Yet again leaning into his ability to showcase brotherhood and strong bonds, through his eventual friendship with his trekking partner Ejnar Mikkelsen played by Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.

Cole can show the viewer how important and reliant friendship during the toughest of time, and how it can help through that support for each other.

Although this role sits within a disaster/survival type of genre, the unforgiven nature of this man vs the elements story allows Cole tap into his grit and determination.

We’ve seen him bring aggression and physicality to many other roles in crime dramas. This film allows Cole to share with the viewer his evolvement as an actor and range of abilities on screen, to not just be typecast to gangster roles.

This character in Iver Iverson is very much an explorer who has a tremendous struggle on his hands throughout the film and Cole delivers it perfectly.

Stream Against The Ice on Netflix.

4. A Prayer Before Dawn – Billy Moore

Altitude (UK Distributor)

A Prayer Before Dawn is tough watch, but outstanding nonetheless. A violent yet poetic film that delivers an outstanding central performance from Joe Cole as the lead.

Based on the unbelievable true story of Billy Moore, an English boxer jailed in Thailand’s most notorious prison. Fighting for survival once again but this time behind bars, Cole’s best chance of escaping is through fighting in Muay Thai tournaments.

Muay Thai being the national combat sport in Thailand, it is an honourable sport amongst the inmates. As a foreigner in their prison, Moore must win over some allies to endure his time inside.

A role that you can feel the struggle and sense the danger, the acting is of such high-quality, Cole captures all that rage and anxiety of being locked up.

Cole’s protagonist performance may well be one of his best yet - an indie film that allows creativity and experiential cinema to push the boundaries to deliver a realistic depiction of prison brutality and life among criminals.

Cole’s performance in this film echoes that of Tom Hardy’s Bronson, a role which helped shape his illustrious career. Joe Cole will be hoping this gamble to take the lead in such an authentic yet raw movie will see it take his career to new heights also.

A Prayer Before Dawn is available to buy or rent on Prime Video and the BT Store.

5. Black Mirror - Frank

Netflix

A twisted and satire look at the future world, Netflix’s Black Mirror explores the dark side to technology and dramatizes the problems it could cause society.

A largely popular show which doesn’t follow a linear path episode to episode, each episode is tells its own suspenseful story.

Joe Cole features in season 4 episode 6 “Hang the DJ” where he plays a young hopeful trying to find love, but in a world where dating apps have got out of control.

The app sets each pairing an expiry date on their relationship, which the couple must navigate and deal with.

Another wide step outside Cole’s regular choice of roles and one we know him for, Cole brings a fresh romantic and different side to his game in this portrayal. Although this is a   sci-fi show, Cole can tap into pure emotions in how he handles love in the future.

This alarming look into how relationships could be set up in the future certainly makes Tinder seem timid. For Cole’s career it was a milestone moment to feature as the lead in an episode from one of the hottest sci-fi shows around.

An honest performance where Cole brings humility and vulnerability to the troubles of tech on our screens, one which might see him in more sci-fi dramas going forward.

Stream Black Mirror on Netflix.

6. The Ipcress File – Harry Palmer

ITV

A true cat and mouse spy thriller which see Cole take on another period drama set during the cold war in the 60’s. Thick glasses and trench coats were all the rage for any spy, Cole pulls it off with ease showing the viewer is his inner Caine.

Plucked by the British Intelligence from prison (a fate Cole characters consistently fall into) and sent into the world of espionage; Harry Palmer must help retrieve a missing asset from Berlin.

This spy thriller not just follows the plotline of the original but mimics the style and tone of cold war cinema, so less of a new adaption but more of a closely followed remake.

Loosely based on Len Deighton’s spy novel, set in the height of the Cold War when tensions were high - war time breakthroughs left the battlefields and were carried out much more subtly with discreet meetings, and through traitors giving up information for the highest price.

Joe Cole’s ability to flex his style again back to period drama from a past but not forgotten time strengthens his acting ability. A great role choice for the young actor to solidify his presence in a genre further since his time on Peaky Blinders ran short.

Cole was able to pick up the reigns of a violent yet charming performance, which saw the actor cement his place as one of the most talented up-and-coming British actors. With the next James Bond yet to be announced, could a spy role like this sway the franchise towards a Cole for one of the world’s most coveted characters?

Watch The Ipcress File on ITVX and BritBox.

Best of the rest: Joe Cole’s movies and TV shows

·       Unsaid Stories – Tom (2020)

·       Pure – Charlie (2018)

·       Thank You for Your Service – Billy Waller (2017)

·       Woodshock (2017)

·       Eye on Juliet (2017)

·       The Thick of It - Jack (2012)

·       Offender – Tommy Nix (2012)

·       Skins – Luke (2012)