The First Great Train Robbery Review

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Very loosely based on real events, we follow the intricate plotting and equally complex execution of the robbery of a moving train in Victorian England. The prize is a military payroll, and the thieves, lead by Edward Pierce, are rogues of very high standing.


A splendidly detailed and rousing caper movie written and directed by popular author Michael Crichton from his own novel, that flaunts historical accuracy in favour of the alluring sizzle of gentleman rogues up to no good. Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland make for an appealing pair of crooks, amoral to their core but brimming with derring-do and street smarts. We’re rooting for them all the way, with their jaunty tops hats, swishing tails and landscapes of facial hair. As they are assisted by the fetching Lesley-Anne Down the deal is sealed. Never has Victorian underwear been applied with this breathtaking effect.

There are two clear halves to the efficient script (Crichton has a scientist’s care for precision). First the crack-team work through the planning stages, as they gradually purloin imprints of the four keys required to open the safe, followed by the heist itself on a train hurtling through the British countryside. During this age of steam power, it seemed an impossible gambit. Tame, perhaps, by the brutally pace of modern action sequences, Crichton still instils a stirring authenticity with Connery manfully doing his own stunts as he crosses the rooftop through billows of sooty smoke, for the getaway.

All around, Crichton soaks up the weft and weave of fanciful Victoriana from the cold, brick walls of the prison for Wayne Sleep’s acrobatic jailbreak to the lush, silken decor of the brothel where the sexy Down steals away a key from Alan Webb’s randy bank manager. But realism is not the style, Crichton is after a giggly quality as if it’s being told as a pub yarn, soaked in exaggeration and acute trickery to defeat impossible hurdles, while never far from redoubtable moral lesson.