BBC1 is showing a two-part drama about The Great Train Robbery. The first film, A Robber’s Tale, follows Bruce Reynolds and his 17-strong gang as they carry out the famous 1963 heist, while the second film, A Copper’s Tale, shows how Detective Tommy Butler (Jim Broadbent) tracked down and nailed the crooks.
What’s On TV visited the set in Yorkshire and caught up with Hollywood star Luke Evans, who played the criminal mastermind Bruce Reynolds…
What was it like being at the centre of a drama about such a famous event? Was it daunting?
“It wasn’t daunting. It was exciting and I really enjoyed it. It was nice to be playing someone who was alive, until very recently. That was very interesting thing for me to get my head around.”
So how do you feel about Bruce Reynolds passing away in February?
“It was quite strange. It think it affected all of us because I’ve known about this job and researched it for a few months so I knew quite a bit and in a way it felt like I knew him and I think we probably would have met if he’d been up for it – but it wasn’t meant to be, so fate played it’s hand.”
How do you feel about him now you’ve played him?
“I do like Bruce Reynolds, I have to say. There’s a lot of information on all of the robbers, but Bruce especially was a great writer. He wrote a fantastic book that I’ve read, and he was always very adventurous in his ideas. I saw a bit of myself in the young Bruce. If Bruce hadn’t been a robber he could have been many other things. He was very capable in many other fields, but he chose to be a criminal and became one of the best at it.”
So how charismatic was Bruce? Did he have to be the alpha male of all these alpha males in his gang?
“He did have a lot of charisma and that’s how he got them to carry out the crime of the century. It was something that most people couldn’t quite believe when it was reported on… they thought, ‘they did what?’ and they’d executed the crime dressed as soldiers and they painted their trucks to look like army trucks. Most of it came from the brain of Bruce Reynolds. Any leader has to have a certain amount of charisma and people have to believe them. Bruce always had it from a very young age. He had very clear aspirations of who he wanted to be and the life he wanted to lead and the money he wanted to have and the cars he wanted to drive and the girl he wanted to marry. He just kept ticking the boxes until they were all done.”
Do you think with Bruce it was as much about the thrill as the money?
“Massively, definitely about the thrill of carrying out the crime as much as the money. In his books he talks about how much he liked the planning part of the whole thing – double guessing what the police would do and having all the contingency plans set up. In our drama you see a lot of that planning. There’s diagrams, they question everything and I can imagine them doing that for hours. They all enjoyed it, but I think Bruce enjoyed it the most because he didn’t really want to mess up. He wasn’t very good at failure and wanted to be the best. He wanted to think how the police would maybe catch you out and how long things would take. So planning was a huge part of the excitement for him.”
Did he ever panic?
“Yes he did. They didn’t ever think that they’d steal £2.6million. They weren’t meant to have that amount of money. While all the other boys were excited about it, there was a point where Bruce was thinking ‘How are we going to get rid of this money? It’s too much.’ Even then he was thinking ahead. He was always one step ahead of the rest of the team, which is another reason he was a leader. He didn’t just think ‘oh great, we’ve got all this money’, he was thinking ‘how are we going to get this money out of the farm hideout, back to London, and how are we going to get it clean, where are we going to hide it?’ He was always on the front foot. So yeah it was a little bit of a scary moment I think when he first sees all the money piled up.”
Do you think he may have wasted his talents?
“If you’d asked Bruce that question I don’t think he’d have regretted anything. If you asked any of the robbers you wouldn’t get a negative response. I wouldn’t say they were proud of what they did, but I don’t think they regret anything they did and I certainly think Bruce would have done the same thing had he had the opportunity. I don’t think he’d have changed his life. Deep down he was very proud of what he accomplished. He was a high rolling criminal.”
What does your nan make of you doing a drama like this?
“I have to remind her every time I see her because she’s got Alzheimer’s so sometimes she remembers and sometimes she doesn’t. I’ve told her once or twice that I’m doing it and she remembers the Great Train Robbery very well. She loves all that stuff. She’s very proud. My granddad as well, very much so.”
The Great Train Robbery will be shown over two nights on BBC1 on December 18 and 19, at 8pm.