'King of Thieves': Michael Caine disputes criticism that film makes comedy out of tragedy

Sir Michael Caine has defended his latest film King of Thieves, a new dramatic retelling of the 2015 Hatton Garden heist, after it was criticised by the victims of the robbery for “glorifying” their loss.

“I read the article by the victims of the crime, and I figured out that neither the writer or the other victims have seen the movie,” rebukes Caine who plays ringleader Brian Reader, “So when they’ve seen the movie I’d like to hear what they say.”

King of Thieves is actually the fourth time the Hatton Garden job has been retold dramatically with three feature films and one postponed ITV drama all committed to film.

King Of Thieves cast (PA)
King Of Thieves cast (PA)

Directed by James Marsh (The Theory of Everything) from a script by Joe Penhall (The Road), there are two things that distinguish it from other attempts: First is the prestige cast, led by Sir Michael Caine and also featuring Sir Tom Courtenay, Sir Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, and Ray Winstone.

Secondly, more than any adaptation thus far, this take embraces the comedy aspect in seeing a bunch of old timers – who police initially mistook for professionals – band together to pull off one last heist.

It’s the latter factor that some have taken issue with, David Joffe – treasurer of the London Diamond Bourse – accusing the film of “making comedy out of tragedy”.

Less dismissive, but equally as resolute, was director James Marsh; “We tried to tell our story as we encountered it, through the point of view of those who did the crime. So along the way, if we embrace the details of the true story, you get into things that are absurd and quite comic. That’s not to detract from anyone who lost valuable things and money in the vault, but that’s not our point of view. There’s another film you could make about that.”

<i>King of Thieves</i> is in cinemas now (Studiocanal)
King of Thieves is in cinemas now (Studiocanal)

Indeed, the filmmakers commitment to authentic storytelling extended to even the less unsavoury aspects of some characters, including casual homophobia and racism.

“I think if you sanitise them then that’s equally damaging”, writer Joe Penhall noted. “It was important for us to be unsentimental and not necessarily adopt any kind of orthodoxy”.

The film ends just as the real life story does, with the thieves being arrested and then put in jail. When asked whether the sentence for Reader and co were fair, Marsh gave a typically measured response; “Because they were so old, you realise you’re condemning them to spend the rest of their lives in jail. So is that right or wrong? But the law is the law and they got caught”.

“The legal answer to that is within the bounds of the law it was fair”, Penhall adds. “They were armed, it was a commercial premises, they were very calculating about the limitations of their crime, so nobody was hurt. I don’t have any kind of moral purview on whether I think their punishment was right or wrong.

As for whether the cast themselves have been on the receiving end of thefts, Courtenay revealed that: “Somebody stole the Volpi cup that I won in 1964 at the Venice Film Festival for King and Country. It’s completely worthless, but they left the base…”.

Although the majority of the cast is stacked with British legends, King of Thieves does boast one (relatively) young face in Charlie Cox who plays Basil. Thankfully, working alongside actors who’s work he grew up watching was actually perfect for the role: “There were certain scenes where it was important that Basil felt a little intimidated or out of his depth and out of his league and that was very easy for me to play”.

While Cox wasn’t subjected to much hazing from his senior colleagues: “We were just a bunch of guys who’d known each other for years having a bunch of fun.”

King of Thieves is out now. Watch a trailer below.

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