|as a fascinating, if ultimately unsatisfying glimpse under the surface of both sides of one of the biggest gold robberies of all time
|Hugh Bonneville, Jack Lowden, Amanda Drew, Charlotte Spencer, Daniel Ings, Danny Webb, Dominic Cooper, Dorothy Atkinson, Ellora Torchia, Emun Elliott, Hadley Fraser, James Nelson-Joyce, Justin Edwards, Nichola Burley, Peter Davison, Robin Laing, Ruth Bradley, Sean Gilder, Sean Harris, Sophia La Porta, Stefanie Martini, Tom Cullen
|Aneil Karia, Lawrence Gough, Charlie Leech, Neil Forsyth
|BBC iPlayer, BBC1
|12th February 2023
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
In November 1983, a gang of 6 armed robbers burst into the Brink’s-Mat storage facility at Heathrow airport to steal about a £1m worth of foreign currency – and get away with about £26m worth of gold bullion.
But that was the easy part. £26m of gold is worth nothing if you can’t get rid of it, so the gang need a fence. Self-made millionaire Kenneth Noye (Jack Lowden) tells them there are only two people in the country who can dispose of that much gold and he’s one of them.
First he needs someone who can smelt down the gold so that it can’t be traced – Bristol jeweller John Palmer (Tom Cullen) can do that. Then he needs a way to clean the money they make – a respected lawyer like Edwyn Cooper (Dominic Cooper) probably has the contacts to sort that out.
The task of leading the investigation into the Brink’s-Mat raid falls on Brian Boyce (Hugh Bonneville), a highly respected former army officer who’s been given one last big job before he retires. He rounds up an eager young team, including customs and excise investigator Archie Osborne (Daniel Ings) and detective Nicki Jennings (Charlotte Spencer), who was brought up on the same south London streets as the gang members.
The race is on to catch the gang, the gold and the money – before they all disappear.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Neil Forsyth’s six part drama isn’t about what was, at the time, the world’s biggest heist – but its aftermath; the race against time as the conspirators tried to dispose of the evidence – the gold and the money – before the police caught them in the act. For most criminals, the robbery would be the culmination of their planning – for this gang, it was just the start.
But this was a crime that no-one ever set out to commit – each conspirator got drawn in as the scale of the task at hand grew and grew. For this TV drama, everything seems to revolve around Kenneth Noye, but it’s never really clear who is at the top of the tree; the was – in reality – no kingpin from the start as it was the brainchild of the robbers, who had to contract out the rest of the job.
Noye is initially presented as a loveable rogue, in just a little over his head on a bigger job than he’s been involved in before. It’s only really when he barks at the jurors that he hopes they die of cancer that his truth character becomes evident; there’s no mention here of the fact that to most people under 50, if they’ve heard of him at all, it’s as the M25 road-rage murderer; rather than the cheeky chappie he’s portrayed as here, he was not the kind of guy that most everyday people would want to hang around with. John Palmer too is presented more as a bumbling opportunist than as the ruthless criminal his gangland execution hinted that he later became.
Many of the hen-pecked gangsters seem be more frightened of the women in their lives than of the police who are slowly closing in on them.
There were so many strands for the police to bring together as they separately chased the robbers, the gold and the money-men, that it took years for anyone to get to trial and the passage of time isn’t always clear here – we have a flurry of activity at the start, followed by a six month gap, and then another flurry of activity.
You get a bit of the glitz and glamour of the convict ex-pat lifestyle, as one-by-one, those conspirators who can, flee to one Costa Del Crime or another – but it’s never quite clear why so many of them seem to come back to face their fate as willingly as they do.
Threats about the what those higher up the chain might be forced to do to them if they don’t cooperate emerge, but it’s never really clear who these people are or what they might do – until a visit from a black-clad motorcyclist in the dying moments.
There’s a lot going on here – from villains trying to organise themselves as they clean the gold and the cash to the cops searching – on paper and in the real world – for anyone involved in any aspect of the robbery and its aftermath. This makes it hard to find anyone to latch onto as a viewer – with villains including robbers, jewellers, accountants, lawyers and even police officers – and different detectives chasing each group. It ultimately comes down to a head-to-head between Bonneville’s Boyce and Lowden’s Noye.
The drama has some interesting things to say about the culture clash between the gangsters on the streets and those who’ve tried to build themselves a cloak of respectability – there’s a big nod to corruption as we see how membership of the freemasons protects a large number of the antagonists, to a degree – and it’s enlightening to see that while much of the jewellery sold in the UK still contains Brink’s-Mat gold, areas such as the regenerated docklands were funded by the laundered proceeds of the crime.
Jack Lowden and Tom Cullen as Noye and Palmer respectively are effective enough but a little more morally ambiguous than, perhaps, their true actions warrant. Hugh Bonneville’s Brian Boyce is the consummate professional police officer, fighting antagonism as much from colleagues within the Masons as from the gangsters themselves. Most of the other investigators are rather single-note characters; only Charlotte Spencer’s street-wise detective has any kind of back story. Leading the hunt for the money, the customs expert played by Daniel Ings provides a rare glint of humour, in a role about as different as you could imagine from his lothario sidekick in Lovesick.
Many questions remain – but that’s partly down to the fact that questions remain in real life – but that also leads to a slightly unsatisfying conclusion. And while most of those on screen are based on real-life, at least one major character in The Gold is fictitious, which also serves to undermine the effectiveness of a “based on real life” drama.