TV & Radio

The Gold review: Pure primetime fun that bubbles away with the vigour of a red-hot crucible

How do you tell the story of a heist, when the heist isn’t the story? In 1983, six masked burglars broke into a warehouse on a trading estate near Heathrow. They were looking to crack into a vault, but when the security guards failed to provide a passcode – even when doused in petrol and threatened with a naked flame – attention turned to the glistening stash outside the vault. And this is where the story of The Gold, BBC One’s new six-part retelling of the Brink’s-Mat robbery, begins. This isn’t the story of a heist, but of what happened next.

“How do you shift three tonnes of gold?” asks Charlotte Spencer’s Rotherhithe local copper, Nicki. “Slowly,” replies her partner Tony (Emun Elliott). There are other adverbs he might have chosen: agonisingly, complicatedly, infuriatingly. Instead of the expected million quid in the vault, the team of low-level crooks have stumbled upon gold bullion worth some £26m. The job of getting the stolen gold back into the market falls to Kenneth Noye (Slow HorsesJack Lowden), a charming but dangerous fence, who seizes the haul as the police net closes on the perpetrators. “Gold like that,” he tells ringleader Mickey (Adam Nagaitis). “You can’t control it.” And so it proves.

While Noye is working with an expert smelter, John Palmer (Tom Cullen), to turn the bullion into untraceable and newly certified bars, dodgy businessman Gordon Parry (Sean Harris) and crooked solicitor Edwyn Cooper (Dominic Cooper) are helping to launder that cash into assets: particularly a big new property development on old Thames wharf land. If that sounds like a lot of threads (and it’s not the half of it) then that’s the point. The gold casts a fleeting glow on the faces of each of these people but leaves a deeper mark after it’s gone.

Brink’s-Mat is, after all, known as much for its supposed “curse” as for the robbery itself. And The Gold is more concerned with social dynamics – the difficulty, almost an impossibility, of improving your station – than it is with the crime. It’s typified by the quietly establishment presence of DCI Brian Boyce (Hugh Bonneville). “Money like that will end up a long way from south London,” he tells his team at the Flying Squad. There are big fish and small fish, and Boyce is hunting the marlin, not the anchovy. And though nuances of these contrasting lifestyles – from gentleman’s clubs and freemason lodges, to the East End pubs frequented by the Krays – are an interesting addition, they are deployed rather bluntly. Charlotte Spencer’s salt-of-the-earth (and invented for this series) police officer has, of course, battled sexism and institutional bias to make it this far, while Dominic Cooper’s wheeler-dealer (“So overtly on the climb,” in the words of his posh wife) buys an indoor swimming pool but, naturally, can’t swim.

Ham-fisted metaphors aside, The Gold is a lively, creative piece of work from writer-creator Neil Forsyth, which bubbles away with the vigour of a red-hot crucible. Bonneville and Cooper are reliable small-screen presences, while Lowden continues to burnish his CV with charismatic performances in hit TV shows (though casting directors should avoid putting him and Nagaitis side-by-side; they could be twins). The women, including Stefanie Martini as Mrs Palmer, are somewhat shoehorned into this masculine world. But the show makes no claim to be a work of history: the opening titles disclaim that “characters and elements” have been changed to serve the story.

But what a story it is. Filled with twists and turns, and a cast who veer between likeable and villainous, The Gold is pure primetime fun. Like Ocean’s Eleven, if the action began with George Clooney mulling over how to get $160m in marked bills out of Las Vegas, The Gold accepts that the theft was the easy part. Telling the story of what happened next – and making it every bit as exhilarating as a full-blown safecracking caper – is the show’s true alchemy.

‘The Gold’ airs Sundays at 9pm on BBC One

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