Written By: Lindsay McKinnon
Distributor: Studio Canal
Production Company: Working Title. Films
Director: James Marsh
Producers: Tim Bevan, Ali Jaafar, Michelle Wright and Eric Fellner
Scriptwriter: Joe Penhall
Main Cast: Michael Caine, Charlie Cox, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay, Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone, Francesca Annis and Paul Whitehouse
Released: September 14 2018
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Based on the Hatton Garden Heist in 2015, this possesses all the elements for a classic school math problem: how long would it take 7 pensioners to drill through 20 inches of concrete, with poor planning, faulty tools, dicky tickers, leaky bladders and a bus pass?
Much was made at the time of the daring robbery being committed by a group of men whose ages ranged from their late-60s to late-70s. It could have been a plot straight out of Ealing Studios which, as it happens, is where it was filmed.
When you consider that these ‘old lags’ got away with an estimated haul of gold, jewellery and cash equalling approximately £100m, most of which was never recovered, and that the brains behind the heist remains unknown, it’s no wonder it has captured the imagination of the public and film industry alike.
King of Thieves is the third film in as many years to depict the Hatton Garden Heist. The first effort in 2016, Hatton Garden: The Heist went straight to DVD. The second film, released in 2017, The Hatton Garden Job, wasn’t so much panned by critics as given a damn good kicking.
Third time lucky?
King of Thieves held great promise to be a classic of Great British cinema, with a stellar cast of British talent, under the direction of James Marsh (The Theory of Everything). The resulting production though falls just short of its full potential.
The film begins well with career criminal Brian Reader (Michael Caine) enjoying his last moments with his wife, played by the still-beautiful Francesca Annis. By the time we get to her funeral, his friends are reminiscing about previous capers and hatching plans for a robbery that was to go down as one of the most daring heists in British criminal history.
There are moments that work well as stand-alone scenes such as the one depicting the wrinkly robbers chatting about how many tablets they need for their myriad of ailments, juxtaposed with a discussion of whether or not they should do the job ‘tooled-up’.
We are soon reminded, however, that these are not a group of harmless old gents supplementing their pensions with one last hurrah. These are hardened criminals whose records start in childhood and include – the film suggests – *the murder of a police officer by Brian Reader (Michael Caine).
The direction is faultless and often pays homage to the stylised films of the 1960s. The use of black & white clips from the actors’ various early roles as villains is a clever device that serves to show them in their pre-sciatica prime.
The cast is made up of a who’s who of British talent that leaves the audience drooling at the thought of what each of these magnificent thespians will bring to their respective roles; sadly, they were not given the opportunity.
The criminals they were depicting were ‘faces’ on the London crime scene, real characters with a rich and very long back-story, giving no end of opportunity for screenwriter Joe Penhall (The Road) to pen a meaty script. What we get, however, are one-dimensional characters with little or no colour, resulting in a film that lacks any real substance.
This film had the potential to be up there with the likes of Sexy Beast and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, but instead, is closer to an episode of Frost.
This is one story that will not die, as production has already begun on an ITV series starring Timothy Spall, which in itself would give you hope that it would be exceptional – but then, we thought that about the cast of this film too.
All in all, it’s a hit and miss, but an enjoyable film nonetheless, if you don’t raise your expectations too high.
* The film suggests that Brian Reader hated the police and was involved in the murder of an undercover officer. Brian Reader was close friends with Kenneth Noye, with whom he served time for their involvement in the Brinks-Matt robbery of 1983. It was alleged that Noye stabbed Det. Constable John Fordham to death in the garden of Noye’s home and that Reader was involved as he was present on the night. However, police spokesmen did not believe that Reader was involved and far from being a ‘hardened criminal’ was instead described as “the last of the gentlemen thieves.” Both Kenneth Noye and Reader were tried and found not guilty of the murder of Det Constable John Fordham.
Overall Rating: 5/10 – Average