My original blog was Hoses of the Holy (ca. 2003), which ended up being abandoned in the dark days of 2007. I started this one in 2011. Scroll down for the archives!

The Gold and Better (iPlayer)

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These two crime series dropped at more or less the same time, so I watched them in parallel.

The Gold is an adaptation of the true story of the Brinks-Mat gold bullion robbery, starring Hugh Bonneville, Charlotte Spencer, and Jack Lowden (River Cartwright in Slow Horses), among many others. So we’re in the 1980s: a bunch of armed robbers get (much) more than they bargained for, leaving themselves with the problem of what to do with three tonnes of gold bullion. How do you rinse than much gold? It needs converting into cash and then the cash itself needs to be cleaned. And in order to clean that much money, you need to step outside your usual circle of career criminals: you need to involve some “respectable” white-collar criminals, who can turn your dirty gold into legitimate property investments in London’s Docklands.

The Tory economic miracle, in other words.

Bonneville plays Brian Boyce, a clean copper in a sea of corruption, surrounded my secret handshakes and tipoffs. He’s ably supported by ambitious Nicki Jennings (Spencer), who comes from the same streets as many of the original gang.

If there’s a problem with a story like this is that you need a cast of thousands, and the spider’s web of criminal connections spreads (and spreads) far and wide. When the loot is split so many ways, and so many people are involved in what happens to it, that it becomes very challenging to turn into a coherent television series. Too complex! And never really over, so there’s no such thing as a neat and satisfying ending. The producers focus on a few key crims, but even then the story can get messy, as juries have a tendency to find people not guilty, or they abscond to other countries. In the case of Kenny Noye, who wasn’t in the original gang, but got involved in the laundering, he’s first found not guilty of murdering a police officer who was on his property, and then guilty of conspiracy. The afterlife of Noye, as a road rage killer, is not included.

It needed more than six episodes really (and it needed to be properly solved), but it only got six, which leaves you feeling a little unsatisfied, especially when you consider the unpunished fortunes that have been made from the proceeds of this crime.

Better is the one that really surprised me. Because you think it’s going to be one thing, and it turns out to be something completely different. A smaller cast here, and a neater (fictional) story, so potentially more satisfying, even if it does stretch credulity.

Leila Farzad plays DI Lou Slack, whose career has been enhanced by her connection to Col McHugh (Andrew Buchan), a crimelord who’s own career has been aided and abetted by Slack, who has helped put away his rivals while keepng him clean. But when a family crisis tests Slack’s conscience, she vows to, um, do better.

So you think you’re heading into a tense story of turned tables and trust issues, and you are, for a bit. But then the story takes an unexpected turn, and nobody behaves the way they are supposed to in these mid-level dramas. In other words, you think it’s going to descend into cliché: cross and double cross, wearing-a-wire, patdowns, surveillance, continuous peril. But it goes somewhere else.

Best of all, it has Anton Lesser in it. And Anton Lesser makes everything better, from Endeavour to Wolf Hall and Game of Thrones. Lesser plays Vernon, an ex-copper with a history of corruption, to whom Slack turns for advice. But can you ever trust a bent copper? As another character says: once they bend, they keep bending.

In short, I was ready to give up on Better after two episodes, because it was looking unpromising. But then it, um, got better.

(You can’t help thinking throughout that at least one of the parts was written with James Nesbitt in mind, but it’s non-the-worse for his not being in it.)


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