Updated: Sep 24
Now I’m no fan of the ‘Diamond Geezer’ genre of British heist movies, far from it. The Who’s McVicar apart, from Hoskins, the Spandau twins & Phil Collins through to Guy Ritchie I’ve never been one for Brit-gangster films. It was with some trepidation that I thus approached The Bank Job starring that archetypal cockney wide boy, Jason Statham.
I have to confess the actual job itself – an admittedly ingenious heist on Lloyd’s bank which occurred in September 1971 – held less interest for me than did the film’s sub-plot: the horrific murder of British socialite Gail Benson. Miss Benson was murdered in Trinidad and Tobago by the black power activist Michael De Freitas aka Michael X, a vicious criminal active in the London underworld.
Having become immersed in the world of radical black politics like many a naïve middle-class sloane, now calling herself ‘Hale Kimga,’ this beautiful daughter of a Conservative MP joined Michael X at a commune in Trinidad. On the morning of 2 January 1972 De Freitas and his associates lured Miss Benson out to a freshly-dug grave in which they thrust the unsuspecting girl before slashing her neck and proceeding to bury her alive.
Benson’s murder and relationship with Michael X and his cohorts is a minor yet fascinating part of the Bank Job. It is a strand however that arguably deserves more prominence. Michael X’s indirect involvement with the heist is revealed in the film’s opening sequence: a steamy Caribbean threesome involving a British Princess . . . photographs of which ended up in the black power leader’s possession lodged thereafter in the vault of the same Lloyd’s bank targeted by Statham’s gang of geezers.
Although the theory has been denied by Benson’s brother, it seems the young women may have been working undercover for British intelligence and had been charged with infiltrating Michael X’s circle. Did the radicals discover something about Benson which precipitated her murder?
Anyway, back to the heist. Statham is a shady car dealer (what else?) but a petty villain with a wife and young child whom he adores. Tipped-off by an old flame (Saffron Burrows) about forthcoming work at Lloyd’s of London which will temporarily render the bank’s security defences impotent, Statham is all ears: all that lovely jubbly in the bank’s vaults will therefore be unprotected- a secret known to only a select few.
In the best traditions of Yul Brynner, soon enough Statham has recruited a team who will be required to burrow underground in order to access the loot. The firm rent a shop near the bank and proceed to dig a tunnel. Suspense increases when the local fuzz come round to make enquiries. Such are the vibrations from the industrial sized drills burrowing into the London earth, the next door take-away shop has developed a profound case of the shakes.
And so, the villains finally get their hands on those fabled Lloyds’ safe boxes. It is only when Ms Burrows makes a beeline for safe-box 102 that Statham twigs that something is not quite right. For this sleek lady has been working all the time for MI5 or MI6 who are very, very eager to obtain the rumoured piccies of that frolicking Princess. Yes indeed, the whole job has been set up by the British security services!
Complicating matters even further is the fact that a local psychopathic porn-producer villain also has a vault at Lloyd’s in which he keeps ‘receipts’ of all his payments to crooked Met detectives, which puts Statham and friends into an even stickier position. Our hero also is fighting a battle not to rekindle his former romance with the delectable Ms Burrows. Whew! Credit where credit is due, this films never stops for breath.
Although it has to be said it often feels like two separate films – black power murder & London heist – these two disparate strands manage to sit together fairly well. Overall, The Bank Job is a taut, well-paced action thriller, but for my money the Michael X sub-plot is the lasting impression, a tantalising taste of a brutal crime just crying out for a big screen realisation.