If asked about a series that flies around the world, storming through an ensemble of characters and blasting genius 80s music, you'd probably think of Stranger Things. But those high-budget ostentations are shared with the new six-part BBC drama The Gold, about the Brink's-Mat robbery of 1983. Although the series is a co-production between the UK and the US, it proves that shows dealing in largely British matters are just as ambitious as prestige American television.
Starting in south London and dripping into Kent and Bristol, The Gold hops to Zurich, to Jersey, to Sierra Leone, to Tenerife, to the Côte d’Azur and Recife and Costa Blanca and Fuengirola and the Isle of Wight. All are connected by one massive yet accidental gold heist at a Heathrow depot on 23 November 1983.
Six armed men, including the ringleader Mickey McAvoy (Adam Nagaitis), invade the space with the intention of nicking £1 million. Instead, they leave with three tonnes of gold bullion worth £26 million… without much idea of what to do with it.
Jack Lowden as Kenneth Noye. Photo: BBC
The Gold is less about the heist, and more about what came after. As the Met Police’s Flying Squad investigate, the robbers negotiate with Kent-based businessman Kenneth Noye (Slow Horses’ Jack Lowden) who joins with Bristolian smelter John Palmer (Tom Cullen). The connections spin into being like an intricately tailored web, crossing and spiralling inside the British class divide – represented at the top by the social-climbing solicitor Edwyn Cooper (Dominic Cooper).
The Met is corrupted by bent coppers and the bizarre cult of Freemasonry, but some good bobbies exist. Downton Abbey lead Hugh Bonneville toughens up for the war veteran DCI Brian Boyce, investigating alongside working-class detective Nicki Jennings (Charlotte Spencer) and her partner Tony Brightwell (Emun Elliott).
Charlotte Spencer and Emun Elliott as detectives Nicki Jennings and Tony Brightwell. Photo: BBC
It’s a lot to sift through, but writer/creator Neil Forsyth wields enough whiteboard explanations to push you forward. He draws his characters in such vivid, unforgettable detail, often outshining the intricacies of the plot. Amoral but competent, Kenneth Noye is the opposite of Lowden’s character in Slow Horses – showing the actor's range. Naturally, Boyce is Noye's parallel: shaking up the system and mining every resource to convict the parties involved.
Although the true story is engrossing enough, Forsyth’s fabrications become more gripping than the realities. Nicki and Edwyn are fictionalised, sharing troubled, underprivileged backgrounds with differing results.
Nicki proudly displays her origins, shutting down any assertions of sympathy with criminals and bringing a fierce anti-sexist energy to a mostly male department.
In contrast, Edwyn hides behind expensive suits, country houses and lofty references suggesting a classical education. As a side character, he grows into a fascinating player that almost supersedes the main event with an Icarian fable of fractured class identity – played with perfect confliction by Dominic Cooper. This makes brief excursions into melodrama, but succeeds overall as an enriching, poignant thread.
Dominic Cooper as the fictionalised solicitor Edwyn Cooper. Photo: BBC
After episode three, in which Kenneth is arrested, you wonder if six episodes is overkill. If Mr Big is behind bars, isn’t it game over? Turns out: the remaining hours are hardly enough. The ending even proposes the idea of a sequel and, considering the events that followed in real life, it’s not out of the question.
Because The Gold is more of a laundering operation than your bog-standard heist caper, the bullion and the money keep moving and moving to make people richer and richer. If you’ve bought any gold jewellery since 1983, chances are it contains some of the Brink’s-Mat haul. Through one serendipitous robbery, Forsyth provides a disheartening, meticulous view of gold's influence around the world in a thick and thrilling true-crime drama.
The Gold airs on Sunday 12 February at 9pm on BBC One.
|The Gold, BBC One review
12 Feb 23 – 12 Feb 24, ON BBC ONE
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