TV Crime Log: The Great Train Robbery

608ITV went into the violent true-crime business with the first part of Lucan  – I’m fairly confident we mentioned that last week – and now the BBC is getting in on the act with its own period two-parter, this one about The Great Train Robbery. You know, Reynolds and Buster and Biggs and Slipper and all those.

A Robber’s Tale, which is on Wednesday, tells the story of the notorious heist from the point of view of robbery mastermind Bruce Reynolds; A Copper’s Tale, the following evening, is told from the point-of-view of the policeman who tracked the gang.

Put the blurb for A Robber’s Tale into the bag and place it in the back of the van:

Britain wakes up to news of the biggest robbery in the country’s history. A train has been hijacked and robbed, 35 miles from its arrival in central London. The country is stunned: who could be behind it? How did they pull off such an audacious raid?

This is the true story of the key protagonists, led by Bruce Reynolds, and their role in the crime of the century. Told from the perspective of the perpetrators, it details how a group of mid-level criminals teamed together with a corrupt solicitor to pull off an audacious heist that baffled and frustrated the police, and thrilled the general public.

Starting from November 1962 and going through to the night of 8 August 1963 and its immediate aftermath, A Robber’s Tale tells the story of how the robbery was inspired, planned, rehearsed and executed.

Beginning with a previous robbery at Heathrow Airport in November 1962, the film tells how Bruce Reynolds assembled and led the gang that targeted the August Bank Holiday 1963 mail train from Glasgow. It shows the characters involved, the inside information, the madness and humour of some of the preparations-gone-wrong, building to a tense blow-by-blow account of the night of the robbery itself.

It details what happened as the robbers retreated to a nearby farmhouse to divide up the money and lie low until it was safe to leave the area. It also explores the fall-out from the coshing of the driver, Jack Mills and why, within days of the robbery, the best laid plans had to be abandoned, the safe house evacuated and all those involved forced to go on the run – some for the rest of their lives.

This is a tale of brilliance and luck, foresight and accident, detailed planning and terrible mistakes. A tale of fabulous camaraderie, from an era when there was still honour among thieves: the story of a team who came together for one night – and would be bonded together for decades after. Packed with great characters and an extraordinary set of events, this is a unique depiction of the criminal underworld of 1963 London, living cheek by jowl with the police.

You can see the first part of the drama, written by Broadchurch mastermind Chris Chibnall, on BBC1, Wednesday, at 9pm.

The second part, A Copper’s Tale, starring the fantastic Jim Broadbent as ‘the enigmatic, poker-faced chief who lived with his Mum and terrified every villain across the capital,’ follows on Thursday night. Bruce Reynolds is played by Luke Evans, who was in that thing at the cinema — you know, that.

5 thoughts on “TV Crime Log: The Great Train Robbery

  1. davidsimmons6

    I’m reminded of Michael Crichton’s effective novel, which made British slang understandable to this American. That’ll be harder to do here, for hearing the words adds another level of unfamiliarity.

    1. Crime Thriller Fella Post author

      Time to turn the TV subtitles on, David, or sit with a Google translation device on your laptop. We’ll be having a Cockney Armed Robber Slang examination here in the New Year, so better get learning!

      1. Claire Duffy

        Ahh a dilemma indeed! I say the one you’re already watching should take priority because promising is all well and good but we all know it’s a risk. Good luck with whatever you decide to do…

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