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
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
  • Get to the point
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.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence