The Brinks-Mat gold heist was one of the defining crimes of the late 20th century in the U.K. Twenty-six million pounds in gold bullion was stolen from a Heathrow airport warehouse. Though many were charged, and some did jail time, four of the six thieves who did the job have still not been identified 40 years later, and none of the wealth was ever recovered. Policing in the U.K. was radically altered in the wake of the crime, as was the world of London's underground crime scene, not to mention the actual skyline of the city itself.
Considering that any drama series based on this event is hamstrung by having no idea who four of the criminals are or the lack of recovery of the stolen goods, it's rather miraculous The Gold works at all. But as the series opens with a double installment, it becomes clear that this "true crime" series isn't all that interested in the original crime. The opening minutes of the premiere restage it, running through the events that lead to the theft, but it also emphasizes the awkward elephant in the room: The entire heist was an unplanned accident.
The gang of thieves that broke in were small-time hoods, led by career criminals Micky McAvoy (Adam Nagaitis) and Brian Robinson (Frankie Wilson). They initially aimed to pick up one million in Spanish peseta bank notes held in the warehouse vault. It cannot be over-emphasized what a small-time haul this was -- the exchange rate at the time made those bills worth about £4500, or $9000 U.S. This was not the kind of heist where the thieves would retire; it was just enough to live on for a few months while planning the next one. In Thatcher's England, these petty crimes were bog standard, and all those who regularly pulled them were well known to Scotland Yard.
While waiting for the vault to open, McAvoy spied something outside of it — the stacks and stacks of gold bullion, which were too numerous to fit in the vault. He instantly pivoted. To hell with the small time; this was legend-worthy. Unfortunately, his small-time mindset quickly becomes a liability. They are the dogs that caught the car, and neither he nor Robinson know what to do with it. By the end of the second installment, both are jailed, and the gold is long gone, stolen by those they went to out of desperation, goldsmiths Kenneth Noye (Jack Lowden) and John Palmer (Tom Cullen), who have no need of the money, only greed and ego to feed.
Noye and Palmer are both portrayed as working-class lads made good. Their dealings in the gold market have made them rich — giant estates, horses, cars, well-dressed wives — and while every job probably helped them get there, neither has ever left enough of a trail to get caught. But neither has ever tried to pull a job this big, laundering £26 million in a few weeks. That becomes the aim of Scotland Yard's special ops team assigned to the case, led by DCI Brian Boyce (Hugh Bonneville) and assisted by two of the members of London's "Flying Squadron" that initially handled the burglary, DC Tony Brightwell (Emun Elliott) and DS Nicki Jennings (Charlotte Spencer).
Bonneville plays the real-life copper with a world-weariness and frustration that is palpable. He didn't ask for this job — it's a booby prize handed to him by Scotland Yard head Gordon Stewart (Peter Davison). He's bitter at how stupid the gang is and angry they couldn't even hold on to their prize long enough for him to retrieve it. It's not until Jennings points out the opening this gives them to take down the thieves up the chain, whom money usually protects, that he sees a chance to do something about the entire system.
Boyce's in for trying to bring down that system is introduced in the first two episodes, but they won't meet face to face for a time yet. Lawyer Edwyn Cooper (Dominic Cooper), whom `Noye's contact, Gordon Parry (Sean Harris), sets him up with. McAvoy was only half-right about the goldsmiths being able to launder his haul; in the end, they can only get so far with their accents and background. They need a bonafide upper-class member to get them into the proper meetings that will land them access to Swiss bank accounts.
Cooper is not upper-class by birth, but, like the money he'll be funneling, he's laundered himself to the point where most can't tell the difference. He picked up a starter wife who got his foot in the door of the law firm, he made his way up defending crooked cops who owed him favors, he married a second time to a girl who looked right to help him reach partner, and then he threw her over once he got in and started meeting women with the right pedigrees. His third wife has legit titled parents, generational wealth, and his son; you'd never know from the outside he wasn't born into this life.
As the second episode concludes, the plan Noye, Palmer, Parry, and Cooper is running at full speed. They melt and dilute the gold, get it restamped, and then turn it into electronic money in Switzerland. Cooper takes his cut and starts funneling into real estate developments in London's poorest district, which will one day be its toniest address, and the cops have to move fast before it's all gone. It's a tight race, with an A-list cast heading for a showdown of how far money can buy your way out of criminal activity. It's no wonder the reviews in the U.K. called this one of the best of the year; the only question is if Americans will find it lost between Star Trek and Yellowstone reruns.
The first two episodes of The Gold are streaming on Paramount+; the series will release one a week through the end of October.