King of Thieves

 

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The real-life robbery that keeps on yielding films.

 
King of Thieves

Bickering bandits: Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone and Charlie Cox

 

What happened in Hatton Garden during the Easter weekend in 2015 has come to be known as the largest burglary in British legal history. That same event has surely now latched up another record as being the source for no less than three recent films of which King of Thieves is the latest (the other two sank leaving little trace). Although it gains from being very ably directed by James Marsh, this version written by Joe Penhall stands out principally due to the casting, which is both its strength and its Achilles' heel.

 

The robbery that targeted safe deposit boxes in London’s Hatton Garden came about when a relative youngster (Charlie Cox) possessed of a key crucial to the plan approached an experienced elderly criminal, Brian Reader (Michael Caine), to gather a team for the job. All of those then brought in were in their sixties or seventies. However, when the casting was put in hand for this film, just for once the actors chosen were in virtually all cases older than the people they were to portray. Thus, Caine's team consists of Tom Courtenay, Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone and Paul Whitehouse together with Michael Gambon in the role of a fence.

 

Apart from incorporating strong language, this is the kind of movie that follows past styles and, as such, its appeal to younger viewers may well be limited. The truth of the matter is that, despite its real-life source, King of Thieves comes over as an entertainment inviting fans of the actors cast to relish them in roles in which, ignoring old age, they set out adventurously on a heist that involves no violence. That makes it easy to root for them, while Caine's character in addition earns sympathy for losing his wife (Francesca Annis). The result was always going to be lightweight (this is no Rififi) but for its first half at least the film pleases.

 

Much of the lightness of tone comes from humour and towards the end that tone is still to be found. When arrested Courtenay's character asks if there is any chance of a cup of tea and the last of several montage sequences actually incorporates the briefest of clips from old films in which some of the leading actors have appeared. But, despite such late touches, the last third of King of Thieves feels bound to acknowledge the truth that these robbers were not nice people at all and their deviousness takes over when it comes to dissension over sharing the profits of the heist. What had been a very soft but engaging version of the facts tailored to star appeal turns into something in a different mould (although in the midst of that the film is ready to overlay some of the later drama with Shirley Bassey's recording of 'The Party's Over'!). The film's second half is doubtless nearer to the truth in its characterisations, but it's not what the fans will want to see and it is not what the first hour has led us to expect. Consequently, there is no doubt as to which half of the movie works best.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Charlie Cox, Paul Whitehouse, Michael Gambon, Ray Winstone, Francesca Annis, Adam Leese.

 

Dir James Marsh, Pro Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Ali Jaafar and Michelle Wright, Screenplay Joe Penhall, Ph Danny Cohen, Ed Jinx Godfrey and Nick Moore, Music Benjamin Wallfisch, Costumes Consolata Boyle.

 

Working Title Films-StudioCanal.
108 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 14 September 2018. Cert. 15.