Paramount+’s The Gold Is a Relentlessly Watchable Heist ThrillerPhoto Courtesy of Paramount+ TV Reviews paramount plus
The true story behind the central events of The Gold, the excellent new six-part miniseries from Paramount+, would be unbelievable if it hadn’t actually happened. Six thieves broke into unit 7 of the Brink’s-Mat warehouse near Heathrow Airport in November 1983, hoping to steal $1 million from a vault with the help of a security guard on the inside, and ended up finding almost 7,000 bars of pure gold bullion outside the vault… along with some diamonds, platinum, and, like a cherry on top, traveler’s checks. In all, they made off with the modern equivalent of nearly £100 million, or $123 million. This led to an investigation that lasted a decade, resulting in several arrests, several murders, and a whole lot of gold unrecovered.
That’s a hell of a story! And one, you might imagine, that would be hard to get wrong. Happily, The Gold creator Neil Forsyth (also the creator of the BBC drama Guilt) doesn’t just do the wild events of the Brink’s Mat robbery justice, but goes beyond in crafting an extremely entertaining, intricately plotted drama that is as watchable as any thriller of the past year. The casting alone is enough to knock you over, with names like Hugh Bonneville, Dominic Cooper, Charlotte Spencer, and Jack Lowden (who seems to have a talent for landing in high-quality thrillers, with this and the role of River Cartwright in Slow Horses already under his belt) leading an ensemble cast that is terrific down to the last thief.
Clearly, to land a crew like this, Forsyth has accumulated some serious credibility in the realm of British drama, and you can see why; this is a street-wise show, but one that stays a step ahead of its audience, trusting that they will be able to follow the unfolding story at its own rapid clip and always resisting the impulse to spoon-feed information. The writing of the characters walks a similar tightrope, with personalities and back stories filled in with deft and often light touches, creating full composites without recourse to monologging or narration. The whole feel of the production is organic and building, and the early ’80s aesthetic is perfectly rendered, right down to the cars. Visually and structurally, the effect bears a passing resemblance to Tomas Alfredson’s 2011 adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; very much of its time, sophisticated in detail, sparse in hand-holding. In shows like these that can pull their weight in pure entertainment, there’s a secondary reward for close viewing, and the revelations that come like little epiphanies along the way.
There was said to be a “curse” of the Brink’s-Mat gold, for how the robbery seemed to spread in unpredictable directions, implicating and eventually hurting even those on the periphery. This spread was perhaps the biggest potential pitfall of a limited series, running the risk of incoherent sprawl, but the skill of the writers prevailed at each point, and the legibility of the story is never in question. That spread is one reason why it’s tough to single out any given performance, and the biggest compliment you can pay the show is that it unfolds like a great novel with shifting perspectives, where one chapter ends and you’re sad to lose the point-of-view of that character, but happy when the next page turns to find yourself with the new narrator. Within this limitation, though, Spencer and Emun Elliott are particularly delightful as Nicki Jennings and Tony Brightwell, the “Flying Squad” detectives who remain on the case even after it’s taken from their office, and they play off perfectly with Bonneville, the stern but ultimately tolerant DCI Brian Boyce. (The interplay between them is peppered with hilarious one-offs, as when they ask Boyce if they can visit Customs on an information hunt, and he responds, “Customs believe with some justification that we are corrupt. As a result, they’ll most likely tell you nothing while inflicting a level of humiliation that would be inappropriate for me to experience, but that I think you two could comfortably handle.” It’s the funniest way of saying “yes” that I’ve ever heard on TV.)
The most intriguing character, while he’s on screen, may be Dominic Cooper’s lawyer Edwyn Cooper (no relation, you’d have to assume). He’s a suave climber, husband to a rich wife, but his own lower-class beginnings (scrupulously erased from his manner) rise to the forefront as he becomes more entangled in the robbery’s aftermath. He wants money, yes, but there’s a sense of a native, irresistible impulse pushing him to break away from the staid, rich life he’s created for himself—a mid-life crisis dragging him back to the streets from whence he came. Cooper’s brooding demeanor is perfect for the character; you get the sense that he doesn’t quite like where he’s going all the time, but deep down, it’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to him for years, and he knows he can’t resist the pull of his own demise.
Recent TV has made it clear that it’s harder than you might think to create a competent thriller, and it’s always a joy when someone pulls it off. The Gold rises to the top of the genre for its keen understanding of pace and character, and the unique ability to weave various far-flung threads into a cohesive whole. It’s not easy, but they make it look that way, and in the process they’ve created one of the best crime shows of the decade.
The first two episodes of The Gold are now streaming on Paramount+, with new episodes airing weekly.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.