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What happened to 'The Gold'? This crime saga is focused on the aftermath of a heist

Inspector Brian Boyce (Hugh Bonneville) tracks down the thieves in <em>The Gold</em>.
Sally Mais
Tannadice Pictures/Paramount+
Inspector Brian Boyce (Hugh Bonneville) tracks down the thieves in The Gold.

Back in the 1980s, the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcherfamously declared, "There's no such thing as society." Although this was simply her hyperbolic way of saying that people shouldn't rely on government support, her words were taken quite differently: They fed the popular perception that, in the hyper-capitalist Britain that Thatcher was working to create, everybody was on their own.

This idea forms the backdrop of The Gold, an enjoyable new series made (along with the BBC) for the Paramount+ streaming service. It's based on a real-life gold heist of 1983, in which thieves broke into a warehouse and made off with three tons of gold bars. But this six-part series is not the story of the heist. It's about the aftermath, a zippy saga propelled by a terrific cast, sharply drawn characters and a slyly pungent vision of the go-go '80s.

Although The Gold does begin with the robbery, its creator, Neil Forsyth, is more interested in the colorful outlaws who deal with the gold once it's stolen. They are spearheaded by a vainglorious fence, Kenneth Noye, who's played with cheeky charisma by the great young actor Jack Lowden, whom you'll know from Slow Horses. Noye brings in his usual partner in crime, a dodgy gold broker, played by Tom Cullen. Then he enlists a sleek, social-climbing lawyer, played by Dominic Cooper.

Even as we watch this crew go about its plans, we follow their pursuit by a police task force. It's led by Brian Boyce, a righteous, dryly ironic detective chief inspector wittily played by Hugh Bonneville, who seems liberated at no longer being the dense Earl on Downton Abbey. Boyce's brightest officer, Nicki Jennings (nicely played by Charlotte Spencer) is the supremely honest daughter of a South London criminal. Naturally, she is underrated at first because this is the '80s and she's a woman.

The crooks work up elaborate ways to turn the gold into money, a process that involves smelted ingots, fake paperwork from Sierra Leone, genuine Swiss bank accounts and real estate investments along the Thames that change the face of London. Meanwhile, the task force is dogging their footsteps.

Yet Boyce isn't interested in merely catching the thieves, whom he considers garden-variety criminals. He wants to nab the more powerful, and more dangerous people — well-off fences, like Noye, who bribe cops for protection, and the elite who reap the benefits of organized crime but don't get their fingers dirty.

Relishing a fast pace and broad canvas, The Gold zoots between scenes, locations and characters. Everyone registers vividly, be it the shrewd, quietly menacing South London hood played by Sean Harris or the gold broker's wife — that's Stefanie Martini — who doesn't know that her husband is busy moving a fortune in stolen gold every month. She wonders why he's too busy to take a holiday with his family.

Like nearly all British stories, The Gold is shadowed, if not shaped by the class system. Both the villains and the police come from the lower strata of a society that's run for the benefit of their posh social "betters." The show isn't without sympathy for its bad actors, taking care to let us understand what drives the crooks to be crooks.

The series' center is the battle between its two strongest characters, cocky Noye and buttoned-up Inspector Boyce. Both profoundly resent the class system. But where the amoral Noye believes that he's merely grabbing his fair share of a system rigged against him, Boyce holds to an older ideal of honor. He's especially angered by corruption among the police and the well-off, and works hard to slow the rot. But he's too smart to think he can stop it.

At one point, the gold dealer is cooking up a real estate deal in Ibiza. To smooth things along, he needs to pass an envelope full of cash to a local cop. He finds this reassuring. It confirms his sense that everyone has a price. This isn't true, of course — just look at Boyce. Yet it is emblematic. The Gold conjures the era when, from the mean streets of South London to the corridors of power, it became acceptable to think that money is the measure of all things.

Copyright 2023 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

John Powers is the pop culture and critic-at-large on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. He previously served for six years as the film critic.