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 & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit