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The Gold Shines Brighter Than Most True Crime Offerings

Paramount+'s place in the streaming wars gets a boost from this British caper series.
  • Marnie Palmer and Tom Cullen in The Gold (Photo: Sally Mais/Tannadice Pictures/Paramount+)
    Marnie Palmer and Tom Cullen in The Gold (Photo: Sally Mais/Tannadice Pictures/Paramount+)

    In November 1983, six small-time criminals broke into a secure facility at Heathrow Airport with plans to take one million in Spanish peseta notes held in the warehouse vault. The pre-Euro currency wasn’t worth much against the English pound during this era, with an exchange rate of 227pt to £1, making it a £4.5k haul. However, as the thieves stood there trying to get into the vault, they realized there was something else they weren’t expecting sitting just outside it — three tons of pure gold bullion worth far more than their original measly target.

    It was the largest robbery in world history at the time and is now the subject of the utterly brilliant limited series The Gold, a joint production between BBC and Paramount. The series’s strengths lie not just in the cast is a murderers’ row of British A-list talent, headlined by Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) as DCI Brian Boyce and Emun Elliot (Guilt) as DS Tony Brightwell (both the real-life coppers who ran the case), with Charlotte Spencer (Sanditon) as DS Nicki Jennings, a fictionalized composite character. Nor is it the grey and shabby look of 1980s London captured by directors Lawrence Gough and Aneil Karia, which allows the gold bars to shine like the sun whenever they are unwrapped. It’s that series creator Neil Forsyth has recognized the robbery itself is not the most interesting part of the story — it’s everything that came after.

    True crime series tend to focus on the crime and the mental state of the perpetrators before and after. When these series focus on the aftermath, it’s about the cat-and-mouse game between police and suspect(s). But in The Gold, the crime was, in point of fact, mostly an accident. As the famous quote from All The President’s Men puts it, “The truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.” There’s not much to their mindset — they are career criminals doing small-time jobs to get by, and all of their leaders are known to the career cops. They choose to “just do it and be legends” without a single thought in their heads of how exactly one turns physical gold bullion into actual wealth in an era of paper currency and electronic banking until it’s too late.

    The series instead centers mainly on the intermediaries, the fencers, the lawyers, and the people who could (and did) turn the unspendable into liquidity. That is partly out of necessity — the stunning part of this story is that, of the six armed robbers who broke in that day and loaded up £26 million in gold bars into the van, four were never identified or caught. Only the two who planned the break-in, Micky McAvoy (Adam Nagaitis) and Brian Robinson (Frankie Wilson), were ever identified and charged.

    Though both served long prison sentences for the crime, they’re dispatched by the series within the first hour or so as merely the prelude to the real criminals. Instead, Scotland Yard follows the money to those who wind up possessing it, as Boyce and his task force see a chance to aim for the middle- and upper-class men who exploit those like McAvoy and Robinson and launder the gold to line their own pockets. (Even then, only a handful were given jail sentences of any real heft.)

    The mindsets of these middlemen are also far more interesting than those simply brandishing guns for a few thousand quid. The Gold dwells quite a bit on the Thatcher-era wealth gap that created the scenario in the first place and how much these men, many of whom work in a grey area on the edge of legality, are exposed to a lifestyle they desperately want to achieve but feel they never can. The two prominent criminals whom the series focuses on, fencers Kenneth Noye (Jack Lowdon) and John Palmer (Tom Cullen), who moved a section of the gold by physically smelting and re-certifying it, have made it to the top financially already, with sprawling estates, fancy cars, horses, and wives dressed to the nines. But both feel their interloper status intensely, and their drive to move this much gold is as much about proving to themselves they can as it is getting one over on the neighbors who shun them for their working-class accents.

    But the series rightly belongs to Dominic Cooper as lawyer Edwyn Cooper, who made his bones getting crooked cops off the hook, and married into upper-class wealth. Unlike the fencers, Cooper’s angle is far more eye-opening. Hired by Kenneth Noye as their upper-class conduit to clean the initial money through Swiss bank accounts, he starts funneling his share into shell companies investing in real estate developments along the South London docks. While the actual fire and smoke of melting gold may be the money shots the series returns to, it’s the constant reminders London looks as it does today because of the Brink’s-Mat heist that is most effective in hitting home how this one incident changed the U.K. landscape.

    By the third episode, the series becomes a more traditional true-crime case, as the cat-and-mouse game begins in earnest, with Boyce’s team trying to chase down Noye and Palmer before all the gold is laundered. But even then, the series maintains the tight tension that comes from cops coming up against a system designed to protect those who can buy their way in, and those worried that somehow a weak link will push them out.

    The Gold is Paramount+’s first British original series to come out of 2022’s announced goal of 50 international titles, with plans to follow it up in late 2023 with a TV series spin-off of the 2000 hit British crime film Sexy Beast. As much as the streaming service has tried, it cannot live on Star Trek and Yellowstone franchises alone; with Showtime hits like Yellowjackets and series like this, Paramount+ might find a way to make it in the streaming wars. Hopefully, audiences will notice the bright shine of The Gold.

    The Gold premieres September 17 at 3:01 AM ET on Paramount+.

    Ani Bundel is an entertainment writer covering everything from celebrities to movies to peak TV when she's not tweeting or Instagramming photos of her very fuzzy cats. Her other regular bylines can be found at PBS/WETA's Telly Visions, where she co-hosts a weekly podcast by anglophiles for anglophiles, CNN Opinions, and MSNBC Daily. 

    TOPICS: The Gold, BBC, Paramount+, Dominic Cooper, Hugh Bonneville , Tom Cullen, Brink's-Mat Robbery, True Crime

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