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TV review: ITV1 drama, Mrs Biggs
Sheridan Smith and Daniel Mays in Mrs Biggs. Image. ITV
This polished dramatisation of train robber Ronnie Biggs' first marriage to bank assistant Charmian Brent is very watchable, but depicts Biggs a bit too sympathetically at times.
The scene where Ronnie, Charmian and their partner in crime did a runner from a B&B was very entertaining: you almost felt sorry for them when they got caught.
Charmian's father came across like a panto villain. If he was really that bad you can understand why she ran away with Ronnie, however the portrayal felt a bit cartoonish.
Mrs Biggs opens with a disclaimer stating that, though it is a true story, 'some scenes have been included or altered for dramatic purposes'.
How much else was tweaked remains up to the viewer to decide: this is Charmian's version of events and we have to take her word for a great deal. However, it's certainly a compelling depiction of the way life can be entirely
"It's a bit like watching a version of those cosy 1980s Bisto adverts"
derailed (no joke intended) by a chance meeting or an unwise love affair.
Or both, in the case of Charmian Brent.
The programme starts on a train, appropriately enough. Ronnie meets his future wife for the first time and instantly starts to banter with her and the older couple sitting opposite. You get the feeling he'd start bantering with the luggage rack and seats given half the chance: his sharp suit and patter instantly mark him out as a 'lock up your daughters' type.
Basically, if Nuts Magazine had been invented in 1960, Ronnie would have read it.
From the start, Daniel Mays plays Biggs as a rascal with a twinkle in his eye. He's affectionate, witty: a rough diamond, essentially. This portrayal escalates into full blown puppy-dog adorability after Charmian has her first child and Biggs attempts to go straight in order to provide for his family.
"Sheridan Smith is versatile and believable as Charmian"
It's a bit like watching a version of those cosy 1980s Bisto adverts...if half way through they revealed the housewife played by Lynda Bellingham had actually stolen the gravy from a passing lorry.
The likeability factor doesn't sit well if you view Biggs as an unreformed criminal rather than a loveable rogue. Yes, he had a fairly minor role in the robbery itself, but one of the victims (train driver Jack Mills) was badly injured and never worked again. Also, Ronnie absconded from prison and spent 36 years living as a fugitive in Brazil: hardly the behaviour of a repentant man.
Though it has to be said, as a story it certainly makes for gripping TV.
"Mrs Biggs is all about the balance between light and dark"
This episode built gradually towards Ronnie's involvement in the Great Train Robbery. It's revealed that he only agreed to help with the heist as he, Charmian and their two very young children were in danger of losing their home, adding more than a little weight to the Biggs-As-Misunderstood-Family-Man angle.
Producer and writer Jeff Pope is no stranger to controversial subject matter: he was also responsible for the two part serial See No Evil: The Moors Murders about Ian Brady. Compared to him Ronnie Biggs seems almost angelic, which might explain why the programme has an unexpectedly light-hearted feel at times. In fact, the scene where Charmian flashes her bra when visiting Ronnie in prison was more 'Carry On Train Robbing' than gritty drama.
That said, Mrs Biggs is all about the balance between light and dark, illustrated so well by Daniel Mays' depiction of Ronnie as a complex, intelligent man who somehow manages to be vulnerable, loving, self-serving and altruistic all at the same time. Sheridan Smith is equally versatile and believable as Charmian, who changed from an innocent young woman to a besotted, saucy partner in crime in the space of a few short weeks.
It'll be interesting to see how these portrayals shift over the course of the next four episodes. Mrs Biggs is certainly one to keep your eye on...but do yourself a favour and keep an eye on your valuables at the same time.
"I think there's more to you than meets the eye, Ronnie Biggs"- yeah, just a bit.
"He's been cohabiting with a Mrs Ivy Peters. She found out he was seeing you and called the police" - involving the authorities is a bit extreme. Couldn't she just break up with him on Facebook?
"Your fanny's not your own in here girlie"- remind me never to go to prison.
The views in this article are those of the author alone and not of MSN or Microsoft
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