Saturday, June 24, 2023

The Gold, on Paramount+

The Securitas cash depot heist remains the UK’s largest cash robbery in history. Showtime took that one on with the multi-part doc Catching Lightning. The Brinks-Mat heist was the largest gold score. If you own British jewelry crafted after the 1983 robbery, it is thought you most likely have some of the boosted bullion mixed into your bling. Obviously, it was a high-profile crime, but the investigation broke somewhat new ground pursuing those who fenced, smelted, laundered, and invested the illegal fruits of the crime. The investigation and pursuit of the guilty parties are solid grist for creator-writer Neil Forsyth’s six-part true crime drama The Gold, produced by the BBC, which premieres tomorrow on Paramount Plus.

Brian Boyce was a legend at Scotland Yard for his service in Northern Ireland. Initially, leading the Brinks-Mat special task force looks and feels like a demotion, but he soon realizes the case might encompass some of the corrupt elements within the Metropolitan Police he has long resented. Nicki Jennings and Tony Brightwell are not part of that clique, which is why Boyce keeps the “Flying Squad” members on the case.

Stumbling upon the bullion was a happy surprise for Micky McAvoy and his accomplices, but they were not prepared to move it. Fortunately, he knew Kenneth Noye and John Palmer, dodgy gold dealers with a long history of criminal associations, who developed a method to smelt off the serial numbers and create a fraudulent paper trail, to sell the gold back into the market.

Noye also has a few semi-secret allies. He happens to be a Freemason, as is Neville Carter, a highly placed cop in Metropolitan HQ. Thanks to their uniformed brothers, Noye has been able to operate with impunity throughout his career. Carter is also a link to fellow freemason Edwyn Cooper, a social-climbing lawyer, who married into an impeccable establishment family. Cooper will set up the shell companies, the Swiss accounts, and the real estate investments, but he will never directly touch any of the cash.

Everyone should be insulated from everything except their own link in the chain, which makes the case particularly frustrating for Boyce’s honest cops to investigate, especially with the UK’s minimal early 1980s bank reporting regulations. That makes the step-by-step detective work to reveal the conspiracy so fascinating.

However, that Freemasonry business is no joke. At one point Boyce literally calls the Freemasons within the Metropolitan force the “hidden hand.” It all sounds very weird, almost like the Birchers discussing the Council on Foreign Relations. Yet, apparently, this somewhat resonates in the UK. In the late 1990s, Labour Home Secretary led a movement to force Freemasons to disclose their membership before when up for judicial or police appointments.

Despite the conspiratorial tone, the procedural elements are highly compelling. Regardless of who belonged to what lodge, the major developments of the case largely follow the historical record, including all the criminal trials depicted.

Ironically, in this case, the cops are much more interesting than the villains. Without question, Boyce is the best role Hugh Bonneville has had since Lord Grantham in
Downton Abbey. Boyce has several speeches that he knocks out of the park, including address to his troops after one of his officers is killed in the line of duty. Plus, Forsyth wrote a terrific jazz analogy for Boyce that Bonneville delivers with style.

Charlotte Spencer is also excellent as Jennings, a working-class cop with a chip on her shoulder. Class envy is a toxic motivation for criminal behavior throughout
The Gold, but her character refuses to use it as an excuse for corruption. Dominic Cooper convincingly brings out the insecurities that turn his half-namesake Edwyn Cooper crooked, while Sean Harris is quietly creepy as his crooked associate Gordon Parry. However, Jack Lowden and Tom Cullen are rather dull as Noye and Palmer. Both were supposedly quite charismatic, but that is never reflected on-screen for either.

On the surface, Forsyth’s script is sympathetic to the have-nots and those not born into privilege. However, the series holds everyone fully accountable for their decisions. Through Boyce, the series persuasively argues the people who launder and fence also bear responsibility for the ultimate results they help realize. It is a surprisingly tough takeaway. Highly recommended for Bonneville’s performance and the fascinating recreation of the intricately complex police investigation,
The Gold starts streaming tomorrow (6/25) on Paramount+.