Tarnished tale turns murderous thug Noye into BBC’s latest working class hero
The Gold – BBC1 last night and iPlayer
Not jack the lads. No big boys, no cheeky guys, no scoundrels with hearts of gold. And certainly not glittering champions of the working class.
Money launderers Kenneth Noye and John Palmer were vicious, brutal tyrants who used violence and intimidation to feed their boundless greed, destroying countless lives in the process.
However, you wouldn’t know it from The Gold (BBC1), a crime fantasy about the aftermath of the biggest armed robbery in British history – the Brink’s-Mat gold bar heist in November 1983.
Jack Lowden plays Noye, the ambitious crook who has ensured that most of the £26million gold bars are melted down and sold, as a class warrior.
When we first meet him, he’s poaching forests owned by the local toff with a shotgun, taking down a few rabbits for the pot. Confident and cocky, he believes that some people were born with silver spoons in their mouths… and others have the wits to steal golden ones.
It’s a romantic image, as dishonest as the man himself. Over the weekend, the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday published excerpts from a great chronicle by Donal MacIntyre and Karl Howman, detailing Noye’s life on the run. Anyone who reads it has no illusions: it was a dangerous, brutal criminal without decency and conscience.
Lowden’s portrayal, all mischievously smiling and charming, also contradicts Sky News crime reporter Martin Brunt’s description in a recent podcast about Brink’s-Mat. When Noye was arrested, Brunt was in court. He said the cold, empty hatred in Noye’s eyes as he glared at journalists was startling.
The Gold prefers a snappier version, one in the long tradition of making heroes out of felons – like Phil Collins playing a Great Train Robber in Buster.
For the same reason, the drama pretends the Metropolitan Police were on their way to being woken up 40 years ago. Charlotte Spencer plays DC Nikki Jennings, a new recruit to the Sweeney or Flying Squad.
When she takes a call at her desk from a uniformed police officer demanding to speak to a detective, she calmly replies, “You’re speaking to one.”
“Sorry, love,” says the offended man, probably making a mental note to enroll in a training course to address his unconscious biases.
DC Jennings is a young woman from the streets of Sarf Lahnden. Her elderly father was a villain himself, and she’s joined the police force to end the prejudice that lets posh guys get away with murder. “I don’t think we should just steal people who talk like me,” she says.
Her police partner, DS Tony Brightwell (Emun Elliott), tries to keep up in more ways than one. In his leather bomber jacket, with a magnum mustache, he chain smokes so diligently that he runs out of breath as soon as he’s unplugged in his car. Chasing one of the robbers down a few side streets leaves him half dead.
They all tower over Hugh Bonneville in his best role in years. We’re so used to Hugh playing upper class, playing Lord Grantham at Downton, or hopelessly middle class at W1A and Paddington, that it’s almost unthinkable for him to be anything else.
But with iron-grey hair and a battered coat, Hugh is absolutely convincing as DCI Brian Boyle, the no-nonsense boss leading the investigation.
He has three rules: ‘No overtime, no drinking at lunchtime and no Freemasonry.’
No pint and a corned beef sandwich for lunch? The original Sweeney coppers Regan and Carter (played by John Thaw and Dennis Waterman) would not last long under DCI Boyle. Forget about work – it’s a damn freedom, that is.
As a portrait of the times, The Gold is a little fanciful. As a drama, with some brilliant performances and a sizzling script by Neil Forsyth, it’s 24 Karat.
But there’s another side to the story – one that will be a revelation to most viewers – the impact of a £26million cash injection on the UK economy as it emerged from the 1970s recessions.
Dominic Cooper plays a devious lawyer who plans to invest the proceeds in the development of Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands… believed by many to be the catalyst for the capital’s financial boom.
And a caption at the start of the six-part series, which is now available to stream on iPlayer, informed us that anyone who’s bought gold jewelery like wedding bands in the UK over the past four decades might be wearing a bit of Brink’s-matte.
One question The Gold doesn’t attempt to answer has plagued me for years: How do you load three tons of gold bullion and six armed robbers into a site trailer, let alone drive it down the M4? That’s easily twice the maximum payload. Why didn’t the axles break?
Not that I’m planning anything myself, you know. I would just like to know.