TV Preview: The Great Train Robbery | Lockerbie

Jim Broadbent in The Great Train Robbery. Picture: BBC
Jim Broadbent in The Great Train Robbery. Picture: BBC
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DO we really need another drama about the great train robbery? So many years after the event, it’s difficult to see what was so uniquely fascinating about this 60s heist, then dubbed the crime of the century.

The Great Train Robbery

Wednesday and Thursday, BBC1, 8pm

Living With Lockerbie

Monday, BBC1 Scotland, 10.35pm

The Lockerbie Bombing

Tuesday, STV, 9:30pm

It’s also had to see what more can be said after the films Robbery and Buster, ITV’s recent series Mrs Biggs and umpteen books and documentaries. Well, Chris Chibnall – fresh from his success with Broadchurch – obviously felt that there was something to say as he’s written not one but two new accounts in The great train robbery.

The first, A Robber’s Tale, is centred on Bruce Reynolds (played by Luke Evans), who put together the gang to rob the mail train from Glasgow; the other drama, A Copper’s Tale, possibly to counter charges about glamorising the criminals, is about DCS Tommy Butler (Jim Broadbent) who led the police investigation.

Though each story could, in theory, be watched alone, there are a couple of ‘crossovers’ and an attempt to draw a parallel between the way that both men had to ‘manage’ a team with diverse skills and clashing agendas.

One is notably more successful than the other and it’s his story that you feel Chibnall really wanted to tell.

It’s decently done: Broadbent, obviously, is as good as ever as the old-school copper and rising film star Evans is very watchable as the stylish career criminal. The scene where they eventually meet has aspirations to echo the Pacino/DeNiro face-off in Heat and the period detail is carefully done. Yet there’s a sense of predictability about the whole project, not just because the outcome is so well known. Although it’s obvious why the BBC wanted to stage something to mark the crime’s 50th anniversary (in August – why did they postpone it?), the first film in particular seems like a weary re-tread of familiar ground, with all that ‘honour among thieves’ guff, while the second is a competent police procedural.

Another anniversary is marked by both BBC Scotland and STV this week, with two new documentaries about the Lockerbie bombing 25 years ago which killed 259 people on the plane and 11 in the town below. Much has been said and written about the explosion of Flight 103 and the still unresolved questions over the ultimate responsibility for the bombing. But both programmes mostly leave that to one side to concentrate on the after-effects of the disaster on those involved.

BBC Scotland’s Living With Lockerbie has poignant interviews with victims’ relatives, both here and in the US, witnesses and those who were first to respond from the emergency services, as well as those who have investigated the event. STV’s The Lockerbie Bombing uses archive footage including some not previously shown (but, thankfully, none of the most harrowing images known to have been shot), to tell the story, with similar first-hand testimonies.

Both cover the same ground in respectful fashion, with moving accounts of living with loss. Coming just weeks after Scotland’s latest air-related tragedy, it’s sobering to think that in years to come that, too, will be marked in a similar way.