Any film which opens with ‘Based on a true story’ incites a desire to know just how true to life the plot is. Director James Marsh attempts to keep King of Thieves as verbatim as possible and you can be assured that there is little glamorizing of this story. The crooks in this film, led by Michael Caine, are surprisingly vicious and callous with a good deal of incontinence thrown in.
King of Thieves tells the tale of the 2015 Hatton Garden jewellery heist. An estimated £14 million worth of gold, diamonds and jewellery was lifted from a seemingly impenetrable safe over the Easter weekend. Initially believed to be executed by a gang of hardened Albanians, it was soon revealed that a group of geriatric British thieves managed to pull off Britain’s biggest burglary.
The film boasts a cast of legendary British actors bumbling through a heist which puts their ailing bodies through the wringer more than once. Michael Caine is Brian Reader, the ‘King of Thieves’ and master conspirator. Mourning his recently deceased wife, Reader is attempting to go straight but can’t pass up the chance to have one last crack at London’s ritziest jewellery sector.
Caine is joined by Tom Courtenay as John “Kenny” Collins, whose duplicity is mostly obscured by his deafness and inability to understand the internet. Ray Winstone is Danny Jones, the overly cocky crook with an alarming, almost manic cackle and Michael Gambon shines as the one-screw-loose Billy the Fish. Jim Broadbent is cast against character as the psychotic, scheming and dangerous Terry Perkins. This gang of criminals who show their pensioner cards on the bus are joined by Basil (Charlie Cox), the anonymous computer genius who disables the vault’s high-tech alarm system.
The burglary occurs in the first half of the film and Marsh relies on montages to inject a bit of excitement into what was two days of drilling through a concrete wall. Although not the most glamorous heist to ever be depicted on the big screen, it’s what comes after which truly makes King of Thieves stand out from the other films based on this crime. The gang descends into treachery and deceitfulness as they are each gripped with unbridled greed.
Watching these aging actors throw shade in rhyming slang and crack dry, sardonic jokes is a treat. They excel as these quick-witted criminals, despite a weak plot which struggles with pacing. Flashbacks to the actors in their heyday are thrown in for a touch of nostalgia, reinforcing the notion that these criminals, with their diabetes, hearing aids, stiff joints and strict medication schedules are attempting to relive their glory days one last time.
With some interesting editing choices, at times it can feel like watching a budget cop show rather than the elaborate Cockney caper film promised in the trailer. This is further heightened by the depiction of the police – only one police officer speaks towards the end of the film, with the majority of the police force communicating through furtive glances and exaggerated facial expressions.
King of Thieves is undeniably a British comedy. It may not last the test of time like its stars and their real-life counterparts, but it is an enjoyable gem of a film.
Blaming ‘negative publicity’ the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company unsurprisingly went out of business just a few months after the events shown in this film took place.