Meet the diamond geezers recreating The Hatton Garden Job
Two years after the Hatton Garden jewel heist and its OAP instigators captured the public's imagination, the story has been brought to the big screen. Jeananne Craig goes to the scene of the crime to meet The Hatton Garden Job's stars and director
IT WAS a crime that gripped the nation – a meticulously planned, multimillion pound jewellery raid, carried out by a gang of ageing crooks.
Those involved had hoped that the Hatton Garden heist, which took place in London's 'diamond district' over Easter weekend in 2015, would be one very lucrative last hurrah.
But despite making off with up to £25million-worth of loot, all but one of them were caught and convicted.
The tale had all the makings of a crime caper, so it's not surprising it's now been made into a film (with another, expected to star Michael Caine and Jim Broadbent, also in the pipeline).
The Hatton Garden Job counts Larry Lamb, Quadrophenia actor Phil Daniels and Game Of Thrones star Clive Russell among its cast, and we're meeting in the vault where the glittering gold, diamonds, sapphires and other valuables were ransacked after the gang used a drill to bore a hole in the thick concrete wall.
Lamb plays Brian Reader, a veteran criminal and the oldest member of the gang (he was 77 when he was jailed for his involvement, last March).
Surveying the empty lockers around him at the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd, the Gavin & Stacey star says: "The size of the walls, the size of the door, the bars, everything else – it seems like something almost impossible to get into, other than if you've got the combination.
"To me, that sort of points up what sort of people they were. Two feet of reinforced concrete and a two-tonne door and you decide, 'OK right, well we know that's where the weak point is in the concrete so we've got to find a way of drilling through it'.
"These were old-school criminals and they weren't fazed by it, they just went ahead and came through."
His co-star Phil Daniels, who plays another ringleader, Danny Jones, says the heist captured the public's imagination because of the age of those involved.
"They were skilled operators. They were people who knew how to climb down ropes, get down lift shafts and do it that way. And they were Dad's Army as well."
Smiling, Lamb adds: "A bunch of blokes from suburban North London who were in their 60s had done it; you couldn't have written it!"
A total of seven men were convicted of offences connected with the raid, but a mystery figure known as 'Basil' remains at large. He provided the inspiration for Downton Abbey star Matthew Goode's unnamed character, a career criminal who assembles the gang.
"Nobody knows his age," says director Ronnie Thompson.
"There are theories about him. We don't know who he is, but we know he was there. We understand he was the person that organised it, so I've built theories around who he was linked to."
In a business where scripts can take years to get off the ground, this film had a remarkably quick turnaround, with the shoot taking place over 25 days in and around London.
Locations included a studio space in Stratford, where a replica of the vault was built, including two hefty blocks of real concrete to mark the gang's main obstacle to the vault.
Thompson was keen for the actors to drill through the concrete for real, which made for a dusty day on set.
"I just felt that, rather than cheating and doing it all with sound design, it would be much better for my artists to perform with the real drill, to drill the concrete and actually climb through it," he says.
We see most of the men audaciously return to the vault for a second night to continue their work, then later celebrating and toasting their success with champagne.
"For them, it was one last blast, which would pay for the rest of their lives, a pension, one last chance to do something really big in their world," Russell notes.
In a matter of weeks, however, the law catches up with them.
"I show how they got caught. But not the arrests. To me, the story is finished when they're celebrating and they're happy," says Thompson.
"I'm making a movie I want people to enjoy. It's not a kitchen sink drama, it's more entertainment. I found the story entertaining when I read about it, as I think the majority of the people I've spoken to did.
"When I've told people I'm doing this movie, most have a little smile on their faces."
:: The Hatton Garden Job is in cinemas now