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The Great Train Robbery DVD Review

The Great Train Robbery (2013 miniseries) DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com The Great Train Robbery
Miniseries & DVD Details

Directors: Julian Jarrold (part 1), James Strong (part 2) / Writers: Chris Chibnall (teleplay); Rob Ryan (book Signal Red), Andrew Cook (book The Great Train Robbery - The Untold Story from the Closed Investigation Files) / Producer: Julian Stannard

Cast: Jim Broadbent (DCS Tommy Butler), Luke Evans (Bruce Reynolds), Robert Glenister (DI Frank Williams), James Fox (Henry Brooke), George Costigan (DCS Ernie Millen), Martin Compston (Roy James), Jack Roth (Charlie Wilson), Paul Anderson (Gordon Goody), Neil Maskell (Buster Edwards), Nigel Collins (Bert Turner), Bethany Muir (Franny Reynolds), Nick Moran (DS Jack Slipper), Tim Pigott-Smith (DS Maurice Ray), James Wilby (John Wheater), George Ward (Nick Reynolds), Del Synott (Brian Field), Stuart Graham (The Ulsterman), Nicholas Murchie (Roger Cordrey), Jordan Long (Tommy Wisby), Eliza Doolittle (Club Singer)

Original UK Air Dates: December 18-19, 2013 / Running Time: 185 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
DVD Release Date: October 7, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s) / Black Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover

Buy The Great Train Robbery on DVD from Amazon.com

The phrase "The Great Train Robbery" has been applied to four different incidents of the 19th and 20th centuries, two of them occurring in America and two of them in the United Kingdom. The robbery that occurred in England in 1963 has inspired two British feature films, multiple books,
a board game, and the title of a Black Uhuru reggae song. Now, there is The Great Train Robbery, a two-part 2013 British miniseries dramatizing the crime and subsequent criminal investigation.

Part 1, titled A Robber's Tale, opens in November 1962 with five gents in bowler hats hiding rolled-up ski masks in an elevator at London's airport. They hit the loo in tandem and prepare to steal. Their take of 62 thousand, however, proves to be a mere fraction of what they were expecting. The group's ringleader, Bruce Reynolds (Luke Evans), is dismayed, but already formulating his next plan.

Reynolds picks out an unlikely target: an overnight mail train running from Glasgow to London. The train has been running for 125 years with nary an incident. There are no cops or security, because the thought that someone would rob Her Majesty's Mail is preposterous. But, there is a lot of money onboard. Bags of cash holding a million pounds or more after a bank holiday have no one watching them, which makes Reynolds think a heist is possible.

In "A Robber's Tale", the first half of "The Great Train Robbery", mastermind Bruce Reynolds (Luke Evans, left) does some reconnaissance work on the mail train's tracks.

The large team assembled decides they'll have to hit the train between a country stop and when it reaches London. Their extensive planning devisees some practical solutions to very tall challenges. For instance, one man uses a children's picture book to practice operating a train, which he abandons in motion when he can't figure out how to work the brakes. Another shows how an ordinary glove can cover a green light and buy them some time to separate the money car from the rest of the train.

With the gang hiding out in a rented farm house, the robbery is executed to plan. When the men are finally finished counting their spoils, they learn they've got 2.6 million (which, as a closing screen points out, is more than 40 million in today's money), far more than their best expectations. As Reynolds says, "This wasn't supposed to be the crime of the bleeding century." But it is, and moving the small bills without raising suspicion seems the biggest challenge yet, with eight Flying Squad agents assigned to solving the crime.

The opening scene and salient details I've chosen to describe to you might sound pretty exciting, but as a whole, the first part of this miniseries is not. The robbery unfolding is slightly more interesting than watching paint dry, but less engaging than perhaps any other heist dramatized on film or television. In large part, that may be because the program is lacking personality. The robbers are a bunch of dark-haired, clean-shaven, thirtysomething white British men who all pretty much look, act, and talk alike. None of the characters but Reynolds is designed to make even a minor impression. Even he, the cigar-smoking mastermind who rarely sees his family and is out to prove himself to the world, is something of a giant question mark.

You can credit Chris Chibnall for not embellishing his teleplay with fictionalizations, but when the material is as dull as this, he's practically neglectful for not spicing it up somehow. No one's saying the production needed to rewrite history to include a woman or some minorities among the criminals. But couldn't these characters do anything to distinguish themselves in ways that their bland period-accurate looks do not? With a style more Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy than "Mad Men", The Great Train Robbery is one dry affair for its first 90 minutes.

Part 2, "A Copper's Tale", focuses on the criminal investigation led by the determined, hard-working DCS Tommy Butler (Jim Broadbent).

Fortunately, things improve in Part 2, A Copper's Tale, which stars Jim Broadbent as Detective Chief Superintendent Tommy Butler. Absent from the first installment save for a glimpse of a newspaper photo, Butler heads up the investigation.
A hard-nosed leader who pushes for secrecy and throws away his employees' overtime cards without a second thought, Butler is a more fleshed-out role filled by a better actor. Inevitably, this portion of the series is the more engaging one, even if such procedural criminal investigation is far more commonly found on television.

Looking like Lyndon B. Johnson, Broadbent does not call upon his considerable comic gifts, but nor does he need to. The notion of an investigator determined to catch his suspects is inherently more relatable, even without motives or stakes being established. More tautly directed by predominantly TV-seasoned James Strong than Robber's is by the more theatrically accomplished Julian Jarrold, Copper's Tale holds our attention as the case is built. By the time, we finally get our confrontation between the chief lawman and the criminal mastermind, a scene reminiscent of the electric Pacino/De Niro diner scene from Heat, it's easy to recognize we've got something good. Unfortunately, this scene represents the end and it's taken the series a full three hours to generate this excitement.

Nearly a year after airing on the BBC in the UK and six months after becoming available to stream on Netflix in the US, The Great Train Robbery recently hit Region 1 DVD from Acorn Media in a two-disc set.

The great train robbery works better than expected... ...resulting in an extravagant takeaway of more than 2.5 million pounds.


Like virtually all modern television, The Great Train Robbery is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Though Acorn has given the series plenty of breathing room, assigning a disc to each 90-minute broadcast, the series doesn't look all that excellent on DVD. Full of dark colors and grays, the program looks drab and lacks detail.

In a rare touch for Acorn, a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is included, though it doesn't seem any richer than a plain Dolby Surround 2.0 track. On the plus side, the British accents aren't so thick you'll have to consult the white English SDH subtitles unless you have difficulties hearing.

Chris Chibnall wasn't yet born when the robbery occurred, but his teleplay relies heavily on factual accounts. The Great Train Robbery's DVD provides around two hours of interviews, not including text ones with Jim Broadbent and fellow lead actor Luke Evans.


Acorn divides bonus features among the two discs. Disc 1 includes seven interviews of key creative crew members and lead actor Luke Evans. Running nearly an hour long and presented as a series of clips with topic screens and runtimes, these should have been edited into one solid documentary. Instead, though demanding of your time, they do relay good information,

largely pertaining to A Robber's Tale. Interviewed here are Part 1 director Julian Jarrold (11:15), producer Julian Stannard (8:20), who emphasizes the factually accurate approach, writer-executive producer Chris Chibnall (8:19), who credits research and recently unlocked case files; program consultant Andrew Cook (7:17), the author responsible for the evidence unlocking; actor Evans (13:47) who discusses playing a real person, and production designer Helen Scott (6:09). There's also a 6-page text interview with Evans covering similar ground as his on-camera chat.

Another seven comparable interviews pertaining more to A Copper's Tale turn up on Disc 2 and add well over an hour to the set's runtime. Lending their perspectives to this production are director James Strong (21:13), who acknowledges an appreciation for Heat, producer Stannard (8:47), Jim Broadbent (10:57), actors Tom Chambers (10:24) and Tim Pigott-Smith (6:34), and ex Flying Squad officer Steve Moore (13:11). Finally, a four-page text interview provides more from Broadbent.

The static but scored main menus dispense information about the part of the series held on that disc.

Disc One opens with a general Acorn Media promo as well as trailers for "Line of Duty": Series 1, and "George Gently": Series 1.

An insert promoting Acorn's streaming service and social network accounts joins the two silver discs inside the slipcovered black keepcase.

This climactic conversation between Butler (Jim Broadbent) and Reynolds (Luke Evans) doesn't have the electricity of Pacino and De Niro in "Heat", but it's as good as "The Great Train Robbery" gets.


A quite dull first half and fairly engaging but ordinary second add up to make The Great Train Robbery pretty average television. While the makers of this 2013 miniseries clearly aim for something greater than that, they fail to meet their goal on a dramatization that's never as intriguing as true crime ought to be.

Acorn's DVD provides a satisfactory but not quite spectacular feature presentation plus an overwhelming wealth of interview clips.

Buy The Great Train Robbery on DVD from Amazon.com

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Reviewed October 27, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2013 Content Television, World Productions, Screen Yorkshire, Lipsync Productions, BBC and 2014 Acorn Media.
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