The Gold review: BBC hits the jackpot with Brinks-Mat robbery drama

Some crimes make money, others make history

Kenneth Noye (Jack Lowden) in The Gold (BBC)
Kenneth Noye (Jack Lowden) in The Gold. (BBC)

The Brink’s-Mat gold bullion theft — the subject of BBC One's new drama The Gold — is so infamous there should be a monument.

Committed on 26 November 1983, by six men who broke into a London Heathrow lock-up looking to grab £1m, but stumbled on gold instead.

In the claustrophobic opening minutes of this BBC drama, audiences are given a front row seat, as career criminals break in, coerce two guards, then make off with over three tons of gold bullion.

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Swathed in balaclavas, sporting firearms, and taking no prisoners: creator Neil Forsyth (Guilt) ensures that The Gold starts strong and continues to deliver.

Hugh Bonneville stars in The Gold. (BBC/Tannadice Pictures)

Headlined by Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Jack Lowden (Slow Horses), and Dominic Cooper (Preacher), The Gold dissects every dramatic moment of this robbery first hand, shaping a compelling narrative from real-life events. It sees different social classes come together to launder the largest amount of gold ever stolen, before a countrywide manhunt can put pay to their scheme.

DCI Nicki Jennings (Charlotte Spencer) and Tony Brightwell (Emun Elliott) are first on the scene when Brink’s-Mat gets phoned in. With an injured security guard to question, a vast amount of precious metal now speeding its way to an unknown destination, and news headlines beckoning, this duo have their work cut out.

Meanwhile, across town Kenneth Noye (Jack Lowden) gets a phone call which soon sees him standing around some gold bars making small talk. With the motherlode of paydays taking up their garage, and alarm bells still ringing, The Gold instantly turns into a race against time. The first piece of this international laundering outfit is gold merchant John Palmer (Tom Cullen), a close friend of Kenneth and legitimate businessman.

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Emun Elliot and Charlotte Spencer as Tony Brightwell and Nicki Jennings in The Gold. (Tannadice Pictures/Sally Mais/BBC)

Next on the list is Edwyn Cooper (Dominic Cooper), a respected lawyer with upper class pretensions, who offers to set up dummy companies, and Swiss bank accounts. His number two is Gordon Parry (Sean Harris), who acts as a front for the purchase of London properties, which in turn allows illegal monies to be laundered, diminishing the Brink’s-Mat bullion.

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This swiftly engineered system, which was thought to be the brainchild of Kenneth Noye, saw millions of pounds turned from liquid metal into tangible assets very quickly. Making this polished piece of real-crime drama both absorbing and addictive television. Not only as DCI Brian Boyce (Hugh Bonneville) heads up a special task force, absorbing both Jennings and Brightwell into his team, but also when cracks start to appear and pressures increase elsewhere.

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Dominic Cooper in The Gold. (Tannadice Pictures/BBC)

When connections are finally made and surveillance teams across the UK come together, there is a real sense of time running out. As DCI Brian Boyce, Bonneville buries his affable demeanour beneath a sheet metal façade. Having been instrumental in bringing down The Krays, as well as Ronald Biggs, who orchestrated The Great Train Robbery, this formidable force of nature gradually uses every tool at his disposal to catch his quarry.

However, where The Gold really comes to life in terms of drama, begins with those close-knit relationships. The how, when, and where of Brink’s-Mat is far less interesting than the why. Whether the motivations of those involved is born of unfulfilled ambitions, as they are with Edwyn Cooper, or worse still, defined by childhood trauma like John Palmer, creator Neil Forsyth only uses the robbery as a jumping off point for something far more interesting.

At an hour an episode, The Gold never lags but instead maintains momentum through clever choices. As a piece of drama, it focuses primarily on Kenneth Noye, John Palmer, DCI Brian Boyce, and Edwyn Cooper.

Although there is an argument to made for calling this an ensemble piece, it is also fair to say that Lowden and Cooper lead the charge in acting terms.

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Jack Lowden and Frankie Wilson in The Gold. (Tannadice Pictures/Sally Mais/BBC)

The latter lacing his creation with working class insecurities, which never go away whatever he does. Either marrying into privilege, being looked down on by his father-in-law, or harbouring a need to move away from old fashioned values, Edwyn Cooper remains an intriguing proposition.

Kenneth Noye is equally enigmatic in the hands of Jack Lowden, who gives this middle-class mastermind a fly by night edge, without drifting into cliché. Having shown himself to be more than a match for Gary Oldman in Slow Horses as River Cartwright, this portrayal will go some way towards cementing his growing reputation as an impressive on-screen presence.

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Beyond that, what makes The Gold so engaging comes down to a combination of factors. Acting aside, this BBC drama is dripping with detail, period specific research, and old-fashioned characterisations which will recall television’s golden age.

Tightly scripted, cleverly constructed, and still shrouded in mystery – this intentionally rough diamond is literally worth its weight in gold bullion.

All episodes of The Gold are available now on BBC iPlayer.