King of Thieves: Three films rolled into a single heist movie

Review: With Michael Caine, Ray Winstone and Michael Gambon, it couldn’t be boring

King of Thieves
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Director: James Marsh
Cert: 15A
Genre: Thriller
Starring: Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Charlie Cox, Paul Whitehouse, Michael Gambon
Running Time: 1 hr 47 mins

Following the Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary in 2015, there were inevitable suggestions that a "major Hollywood movie" was on the way. Given the continuing fad for grey pound flicks, it really did seem plausible that we would see a picture about the four older men who robbed £200 million from London's diamond district. We've had two already. With King of Thieves we get another three or four.

There's a gentle comedy about lovable old geezers. There's a wry satire on the decline of English expertise. There's a hard-boiled thriller about ruthless hoodlums. It's a shame that James Marsh, the gifted director of The Theory of Everything, couldn't settle on just one of these movies. King of Thieves is never boring. No film featuring Michael Caine, Ray Winstone, Tom Courtenay and Michael Gambon could be that.

But it has a frustrating habit of veering violently across the central reservation like a dodgy motor packed with fleeing villains.

Tearful goodbye

As grey pounds films often do, King of Thieves begins with a key character saying a tearful goodbye to his or her spouse. Brian Reader (Michael Caine), retired thief, takes his sick missus (Francesca Annis) to a jazz club before her operation and, after some time-lapse music, faces up to a lonely life minding the lawn. But his old friends have other ideas.


Tom Courtenay plays the fusspot lookout. Ray Winstone is (obviously) the hard nut. Paul Whitehouse is a bit younger. Charlie Cox is the much, much younger computer whizz.

Michael Gambon, a total duffer, steals every scene by tweaking only a few dials on his Private Godfrey from Dad's Army.

The opening sequences feature much amusing griping about the modern world. Three cast members from Fred Schepisi's Last Orders – Ray, Michael and Tom – look to be working through a more light-hearted version of that story.

Foreign crew

When the raid is discovered, they laugh at the media’s assumptions that only a foreign crew would now have this degree of know-how. That’s funny too.

But the later sections, detailing the inevitable betrayals and fallings-out, feel culled from an entirely different movie. The convolutions are muddled. The pace is erratic. More damaging still is the tonal shift from Only Fools and Horses to The Long Good Friday. Caine, in particular, seems saddled with two discrete roles in the same baggy character.

Still, King of Thieves rattles along in diverting enough fashion. The old hits are welcome. Footage from the cast's back catalogue is integrated amusingly.

You could do worse.

Opens September 14th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist