The Great Train Robbery, BBC1 - TV review: Bruce and the boys clean up in a gripping tale that's back in the news

 

Oh, it was a great train robbery. The best. And what made it so good? The fact that the timing was absolutely spot-on. They're still at it too, with the death of Ronnie Biggs yesterday giving Chris Chibnall and Julian Jarrold's The Great Train Robbery (BBC1) a publicity boost worthy of old Brucie Reynolds himself.

The film itself set off like a locomotive. In fact, the direction of its first five or so minutes may be the best thing I've seen on telly all year. In it, three dapper men in suits strolled – tick-tock – into a BOAC building at Heathrow in order to steal sixty-odd grand. But the editing and direction was so rhythmic and stylish – lift opened, latch closed, tick-tock – that as a viewer you were tapping your feet in time to the action.

And then, suddenly, the rhythm changed and the suave men in suits launched into a Clockwork Orange-like battery on some security guards and Nina Simone started singing "Sinnerman". Glorious. And it wasn't until about five minutes in that anyone actually said anything.

"A Robber's Tale" is the first of a two-hander. We see the Great Train Robbery from the POV of Luke Evans' Bruce Reynolds, the mastermind of a plan that would go down in criminal – indeed, British – lore. Tonight's second part, "A Copper's Tale", with Jim Broadbent as DCS Tommy Butler, will show us how Reynolds' mob were eventually fingered by the Flying Squad.

Evans played Reynolds as something like Jason Statham playing Don Draper. He was all geezerish charisma, rather than menace. It was a sympathetic reading of the man, who died earlier this year. I'm sure the blokes on the train who were attacked would take umbrage with the depiction of him as a gennulmun feef but, to be fair, he did look well cool in those specs.

And that was the point, really. It wasn't so much the amount of the money that the gang nicked (about £41m in 2013 money, or as Evans realises after the event – "too much"), but the audacity and complexity of the plan. It wasn't far from genius.

As Chibnall's script explained with a criminally exact execution, the gang got a tip-off about a train filled with loot, worked out how to change the signals to make it stop where they wanted, and how to unattach the carriage they needed and move it to where their getaway cars.

The whole scheme is manna to a dramatist, but Jarrold's direction of the heist sequence was Hitchcockian in its suspense-building. Any fool who's heard of Ronnie Biggs knew they were going to get away with it – for now at least – but by the time the gang's army trucks were on their way back to the farm, I was almost stood up.

I'm not even sure if the only let-down was a let-down or not. Much of the dialogue was spoken in London TV Gangsterese ("You gotta dream big, Chaz"; "We'll need to bring in muscle whatever happens in case things go boss-eyed" etc so on) but, hell, this wasn't social realism and it was a notch above Guy Ritchie, at any rate.

A special mention, too, must go to Tim Roth's son Jack who brought a bug-eyed, albeit cartoonish, menace to Charlie Wilson that was worthy of his father's work with Alan Clarke.

Tonight's second part was set up beautifully by the best scene here. As the gang counted their cash, they gathered round a police radio that buzzed, clicked and whirred before we heard an officer's voice: "Sarge, it's me. You're not going to believe this. They've only gone and stolen a train." I'll be bladdy watchin'.

Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue