BBC hits jackpot with true crime drama

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

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

The theft of gold bars from Brink’s-Mat – the subject of BBC One’s new drama The Gold – is so notorious that there should be a memorial.

Committed on 26 November 1983 by six men who broke into a London Heathrow lock-up looking for a million pounds, only to stumble upon gold instead.

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

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Cloaked in balaclavas, armed with firearms and taking no prisoners, creator Neil Forsyth (Guilt) ensures that The Gold starts off strong and continues to deliver.

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

Headlining Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Jack Lowden (Slow Horses) and Dominic Cooper (Preacher), The Gold dissects every dramatic moment of this heist first-hand, forming a compelling narrative of real-life events. It sees different social classes come together to launder the largest amount of gold ever stolen, before a nationwide manhunt can pay for their plan.

DCI Nicki Jennings (Charlotte Spencer) and Tony Brightwell (Emun Elliott) are the first on the scene when Brink’s-Mat is called. With a wounded guard to interrogate, a huge amount of bullion now rushing its way to an unknown destination, and news headlines beckoning, this duo has their work cut out for them.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Kenneth Noye (Jack Lowden) receives a call that soon sees him standing around some gold bars to make small talk. With the motherlode of paydays taking over their garage and alarm bells still ringing, The Gold instantly turns into a race against time. The first piece of this international money laundering group is gold dealer John Palmer (Tom Cullen), a good friend of Kenneth’s and a 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 runner-up is Gordon Parry (Sean Harris), who acts as a front for the purchase of London property, allowing for illegal money laundering, draining Brink’s-Mat bullion.

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Thought to be the brainchild of Kenneth Noye, this rapidly designed system saw millions of pounds turn from liquid metal to tangible assets very quickly. Making this polished piece of true crime drama both engaging and addictive television. Not only when DCI Brian Boyce (Hugh Bonneville) leads a special task force, which includes both Jennings and Brightwell on his team, but also when cracks begin to appear and pressure builds elsewhere.

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Dominic Cooper at The Gold. (Tannadice Photos/BBC)

When connections are finally established and surveillance teams across the UK converge, there is a real sense that time is running out. As DCI Brian Boyce, Hugh Bonneville buries his affable demeanor under a metal facade. 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 capture his prey.

However, where The Gold really comes to life in terms of drama, it starts with those close relationships. The how, when and where of Brink’s-Mat is much less interesting than the why. Whether the motivations of those involved stem from unfulfilled aspirations, as with Edwyn Cooper, or worse, determined by childhood trauma like John Palmer, creator Neil Forsyth only uses the heist as the starting point for something much more interesting.

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

While there’s an argument for calling this an ensemble piece, it’s also fair to say that Jack Lowden and Dominic Cooper are leading the charge in acting terms.

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

The latter peppers his creation with working-class insecurities that never go away no matter what he does. Either marrying into privilege, being looked down upon by his father-in-law, or harboring 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 jump-starts this mid-range mastermind without falling into clich├ęs. After proving he’s more than a match for Gary Oldman in Slow Horses as River Cartwright, this rendition will go some way to cementing his growing reputation as a commanding presence on screen.

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Beyond that, what makes The Gold so attractive comes down to a combination of factors. Aside from that, this BBC drama is dripping with detail, period-specific research and old-fashioned characterizations reminiscent of the golden age of television.

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

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

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