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'.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
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.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits