On the 8th of August 1963, £2.6 million was stolen from a Royal Mail train in a heist known as the ‘Great Train Robbery’. One of the gang members, Ronnie Biggs achieved infamy, despite his allegedly minor role in the crime.
Much has been made of the tale of Ronnie Biggs. His involvement in one of the biggest heists ever, his subsequent arrest and escape, a new life in Australia, then Brazil, and then now, confined to a hospital bed in London. It’s ripe pickings for drama, and indeed, most know the story of Ronnie Biggs. Fewer people, however, are aware of the trails and tribulations undertaken by his wife, Charmaine , and it is her story that ITV are to tell in a new five part drama, Mrs Biggs.
Written by Jeff Pope, who previously gave ITV the BAFTA award winning Appropriate Adult, Mrs Biggs stars Sheridan Smith and Danny Mays as Mr and Mrs Biggs. Smith’s performance is breathtaking – effortlessly demonstrating Charmaine’s vulnerability, naivety, independence and rebelliousness, never making these traits conflicting, and always blending them seamlessly into a nuanced, complex character. Indeed, the strength of Sheridan’s acting could almost lead you to forget about Mays – were it not for his pitch perfect portrayal of the carpenter-cum-crook, languid blue eyes offset with a jittery energy that seems to possess his entire body. It’s easy to see why the young Charmaine was so seduced by Ronnie’s charm – he positively oozes dynamism.
ITV follows from the success of Downton Abbey with another costume drama – the time and settings are very different, but yet both programmes are lavished with the same loving attention. With Mrs Biggs opening with a train thundering towards London, commuters smoking in the carriages, within minutes we know where and when we are. As time progresses, so do the costumes, and of course, Charmaine’s hair – beehive and all.
The real meat of Mrs Biggs, though, is that it shares all of the classic love story tropes; dashing stranger, impressionable young girl, authoritarian father, so on and so forth, and combines them with a very real account of the consequences and effects people’s actions have on one another. Charmaine’s bondage to Ronnie is such that whilst she urges him out of a life of crime, when she has to make a decision between Ronnie and everything else, she chooses Ronnie, every time. More importantly however, is that Mrs Biggs is a solid, well crafted, engrossing drama, and is yet another feather in ITV’s drama cap.