How 'King of Thieves' Became the Definitive Telling of an Infamous UK Crime
“I’m interested in real criminals.”
In 2015, a group of elderly burglars spent their Easter vacation breaking into a London safe deposit facility and making off with an estimated $250 million. The story captivated the United Kingdom right up until all but one of the criminals were caught, and in the years since the Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary has been portrayed in two different movies and a four-part television series.
Now, we may finally have the definitive retelling of the crime thanks to King of Thieves, a new movie starring Michael Caine, Michael Gambon, and Charlie Cox. The movie was directed by James Marsh (The Theory of Everything) and written by Joe Penhall (Mindhunter) based on a treasure trove of surveillance recordings collected by British authorities.
“What really hooked me was that Scotland Yard had a lot of surveillance and transcripts on this gang,” Penhall tells Inverse. “They had recorded these guys in their pub and the car. That document of transcripts is what really interested me. It was so revealing.”
Penhall didn’t turn those transcripts into a script verbatim, but they offered the writer fresh insight into the minds of these real-life criminals.
“I’m interested in real criminals,” he says. “They’re banal, unpleasant, sometimes not that bright. There’s an ugly brutal banality. I was trying to locate that in the film and not just do a classic heist picture.”
One of the biggest challenges, however, was creating Cox’s character, Basil, the only burglar who escape arrest.
“They don’t know what he really did,” Cox says.
For that reason, legends around Basil grew over the years, and Penhall had to dig deep to find the truth (or the closest possible version of it) while at the same time adapting the role for King of Thieves as he saw fit.
“He didn’t have to be an old man,” Penhall says. “We didn’t want everyone in the film to be an old white man.”
People have speculated that Basil escaped to Panama, got away with all the money, and even died. Penhall still doesn’t know exactly what happened to the criminal, but he hopes the movie will shed some light on who Basil really was.
“What was fun for me was finding out as much as I could and then piecing together what I thought was the truth about him,” Penhall says. “There’s not that much mystery about him, he’s more of a nerd.”
King of Thieves hits VOD and Digital HD on January 25.