|Sheridan Smith as Mrs Biggs. Pics: ITV|
ITV1: Wednesday, 5 September, 9pm
Story: As a teenager on a train in 1957, Charmian Brent meets and falls for flirty, worldly Ronnie Biggs. It’s the start of a struggle to keep the relationship alive and happy in the face of horrified opposition from Charmian’s middle-class dad, Ronnie’s spell in jail, and then his worldwide notoriety as one of the Great Train Robbers.
|Charmian and Ronnie on an early date|
For once the story is that of the criminal’s girl, not the criminal. The hair-raising, happy, miserable, thrilling, tragic times of Charmian Biggs, wife of Great Train Robber Ronnie, as they defied her parents and the law, and crossed the world in a bid to find a life together.
This is a high-class, five-part dramatisation of Charmian’s extraordinary story, with a charismatic performance from Sheridan Smith, made with the real Charmian’s input, and based on a script by Jeff Pope, who has a fine track record for sensitively exploring real-life crime stories – including Appropriate Adult, The Murder of Stephen Lawrence, and Hear No Evil: The Moors Murders.
|Love on the run – Charmian and Ron eluding police|
On the run with £200
Charmian was no gangster’s moll or groupie. She was madly in love with cheeky Ronnie, who blew apart her stultifying middle-class life as a headmaster’s daughter, dad being a man she had to call ‘Sir’ at home. In time-honoured fashion, she wanted to elope with her lover, and for Ron, who’d already had a spell inside, this meant her stealing £200 from the bullion firm she worked for and their going on the run together.
‘The future is full of possibilities, the past will only drag you down,’ is Ronnie’s philosophy here.
|Ronnie, international fugitive|
But crime is not what Charmian wants, though she is reckless enough to chase her dream of a life with Ronnie despite the risks. However, they are caught and he serves another six months while she receives a suspended sentence. But they finally get married (she is pregnant) and settle down to married life, with Ronnie taking up again his trade as a carpenter.
Great Train Robbery
It is when money troubles crowd in that Ronnie turns to his old mate Bruce Reynolds for a loan. However, Bruce – played by Jay Simpson, looking like Peter Sellers and sounding unerringly like Michael Caine in The Italian Job – has sunk all his cash into a big robbery he is planning. It’s 1963 and his gang are going to stop and rob the Royal Mail train.
|Danny Mays, Charmian and Sheridan Smith|
When news broke that £2.6 million had been taken, it became a huge story that reverberated around the world for decades. As the opening episode ends, Charmian’s life as the mother of two young children is about to spiral into uncertainty and notoriety.
Mrs Biggs recreates the period well and is a fascinating time capsule of past social attitudes, lifestyles and even modes of speech. Charmian’s awful dad, confronted with the prospect of his daughter dating an ex-convict, says, ‘I can’t have people sniggering and pointing behind my back.’
Sheridan Smith as Charmian
Danny Mays does well in the difficult role of cheeky rogue Ronnie, a criminal and charmer who has his dark moments.
Sheridan Smith is very watchable as Charmian, who may make some mad choices but is always sympathetic for simply following her heart.
What a rise to stardom Sheridan has had, from roles in The Royle Family, Two Pints of Lager and Gavin & Stacey, to award-winning West End performances in Legally Blonde and Flare Path. She is also starring in Daphne Du Maurier’s The Scapegoat on ITV the week after Mrs Biggs starts.
But Mrs Biggs is a big emotional performance and will add to her star power.
Cast: Sheridan Smith Charmian Biggs, Daniel Mays Ronnie Biggs, Tom Brooke Mike Haynes, Leo Gregory Eric Flower, Adrian Scarborough Bernard Powell, Caroline Goodall Muriel Powell, Florence Bell Gillian, Phil Cornwell Jack Slipper, Robin Hooper Mr Kerslake, Jay Simpson Bruce Reynolds, Iain McKee Buster Edwards, Jon Foster Goody, Ron Cook Peter
Part 2 12 Sept – Ronnie is rich beyond his dreams, but gets arrested. The press descends on Charmian, as do villains wanting a share of Ron’s money
Part 3 19 Sept – Charmian has an affair, Ron plans to escape
Part 4 26 Sept – The couple hide out in Australia, before flees to Rio de Janeiro
Part 5 3 Oct – The couple are lonely, missing each other, and then tragedy – their eldest son, Nicky, is killed in a car crash. Ron is arrested, but discovers his Brazilian girlfriend is pregnant