The Spool / Reviews
British heist thriller The Gold shines brightly
Paramount+'s 24-karat true-crime caper works thanks to a brilliant cast of scheming fencers and heaps of class consciousness.
Read also: the best live TV streaming services with free trial>

Paramount+’s 24-karat true-crime caper works thanks to a brilliant cast of scheming fencers and heaps of class consciousness.

This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.

In 1983, a group of crooks broke into a vault at the Heathrow International Trading Estate in London, patrolled by Brink’s Mat security conglomeration. The Brinks company was already famous for a famous robbery, one that was carried out in the ’50s in the North End in Boston, an incident that turned into a charmingly strange movie by William Friedkin in 1978.

The Brink’s Mat job was different. It made headlines in Europe because it threatened to shine a light on criminal enterprises across the country and because the yield, 26 million in gold bullion (about a hundred million today), was one of the largest in the history of armed robbery. The Gold, created by novelist Neil Forsyth and directed by Aneil Karia and Lawrence Gough, is a tense, terse recreation of the events of the robbery and the complex and violent aftermath with an all-star cast and a winningly grim atmosphere. 

When Micky McAvoy (Adam Nagaitas) and his gang took the Brink’s Mat job with a little help from an inside man, they had a problem on their hands: What were they going to do with all the gold they’d just come into? Fencing it would prove particularly problematic, so they enlisted some help, and the trouble started from there. They went to local tough Kenneth Noye (Jack Lowden), who’d pulled himself up from nothing through criminal activity — a lot of it through fencing. He recognized that the staggering size of this caper needed special attention, so he reached out to a freemason named John Palmer (Tom Cullen) who started melting it down with cheap jewelry to hide it.

The Gold (Paramount+)
Lily Knight as Jackie McAvoy, Dominic Cooper as Edwyn Cooper and Sean Harris as Gordon Parry In The Gold, episode 2, season 1, streaming on Paramount+ 2023. Photo Credit Sally Mais/Tannadice Pictures/Paramount+

Noye then reached out to opportunistic developer Gordon Parry (Sean Harris), who hooked them up with fellow one-time hood-turned-solicitor Edwyn Cooper (Dominic Cooper). Cooper and Parry had come into a scheme to re-develop some waterfront property but needed an investment to do so. If they could fence some of the Brink’s Mat gold and keep a goodly portion of it, that’d be their other scheme bankrolled.

Sounds pretty smooth eh? Just one problem: the police, led by detective chief inspector Brian Boyce and transplanted Flying Squad detectives Tony Brightwell (Emun Elliott) and Charlotte Spencer (Nicki Jennings), got McAvoy a few days after the robbery, so the police were one degree from Noye and his fences. Weak links abound when there’s this much money on the line. 

This is a lovely little thing, the kind of reliably great crime story the British have been telling for years. Gough and Karia know better than to get between the subject and the audience, and so they use a couple of old-fashioned devices to situate us in the early 80s milieu (the occasional zoom-in, the grey, smoky texture, the post-punk on the soundtrack) but mostly just tell the tale with a handheld camera and rapid-fire editing (though thankfully both remain legible).

At its best, this produces darkly hilarious sequences like the twin appeasement of Mickey’s wife (Lily Knight) and mistress (Sophia La Porta) from the prison visitation room. Nagaitas’s pleas to both of them are the same; we cut back to their individual reactions mid-sentence, then see Cooper and Harris showing them the new houses they’ve bought to keep them quiet. The montage where Customs official Archie Osborne (Daniel Ings) explains the laundering scheme is another nifty highlight, moving at the excited pace of his breathless explanation to his superiors. He’s just happy to be hanging with cops and feeling important, and they’re learning lessons about criminal behavior they’ve never considered. 

The Gold (Paramount+)
Emun Elliott as Tony Brightwell, Hugh Bonneville as Brian Boyce and Charlotte Spencer as Nicki Jennings In The Gold, episode 1, season 1, streaming on Paramount+ 2023. Photo Credit Sally Mais/Tannadice Pictures/Paramount+

The show is about stations and class more than the business of crime (though the one is baked into the other, of course). From Noye and Cooper’s hardscrabble backgrounds instilling the desire to rise above their birthright to Spencer’s criminal father acting as albatross and motivation, everyone here is in the middle of a system they can’t control or break. So they all attempt to game it.

Parry still has nothing when he happens across the real estate deal he brings to Cooper, and their resentment toward each other simmers all through the six episodes. The former can get away with playing a rich guy, while the manner, clothes, and accent of the latter mark him as an undeniable element. Dorothy Atkinson plays one of Noye’s patsies changing out the money in English banks, and she immediately starts dressing nicer and wearing garish make-up, much to her boss’s fury. Even calm and collected Boyce doesn’t want his job, liking it better when he’s just one more soldier in a foxhole. Everyone wants to be someone else, and the United Kingdom will not let them. 

None of this would be so persuasive without excellent performances undergirding these moments. In the background are actors with great faces like Sam Spruell, Danny Webb, and Vernon Dobtcheff, celebrating his 60th year on screen. In the foreground, Cullen and Martini make a wonderful pair as the Palmers, two people so close to their dreams and yet so far. They share a karaoke number as arrests are happening that’s quite stunning. Elliot and Jennings are very watchable as the dogged Flying Squad strivers under the eyes of the redoubtable Bonneville, who always finds new ways to impress.

The Gold (Paramount+)
Dominic Cooper as Edwyn Cooper In The Gold, episode 2, season 1, streaming on Paramount+ 2023. Photo Credit Olly Courtney/Tannadice Pictures/Paramount+

Cooper was, of course, born to play this kind of calculating crook in Savile Row suits, and Forsyth gives him a lot of the best stuff, whether his refrain as a lawyer (“You will think of Caesar’s Wife”) or his euphemism for his impending divorce (“I’m in the midst of an emancipation…there is no limit to what I might offer”). He offers both with the requisite gravity. Atkinson is quietly heartbreaking as someone who’s sick of being used and forgotten. Harris could do this part in his sleep, but never seems to slack off, treating every cad as a new chance to find the worst in people while remaining truly fascinating.

Then there’s Lowden, who’s one of the most transfixing actors we have, from his deeply interior yet open turn in Benediction to his loser hero double act in Slow Horses. In The Gold, he’s the kind of perfect villain (in the show’s parlance) you see in the best of British crime fiction. He’s turned himself into a muscle and never makes a wrong move. Infuriating as an adversary and untrustworthy as an ally, Lowden has this man in his bones. These actors elevate The Gold from a great procedural into a killer character study; quite a haul indeed.

The Gold glimmers on Paramount+ starting September 17th.

The Gold Trailer: