The idea of chart-topping 'Genesis' front-man Phil Collins playing the role of notorious east-end Great Train Robber 'Buster' Edwards was enough to put me off this movie for life. I didn't see it until many years after its release, and only then by accident on television.
I have to say that I owe Mr Collins an apology. If he'd not had so much previous form in the pop-charts I'd have hardly recognised him.
The so-called Great Train Robbery was the most audacious and successful crime-caper carried out by the biggest team of amateurs in British Criminal history. It naturally suited the authorities of the day to hype them up as a cunning, ruthless brigade of experts, because it helped draw a veil over their own lax security, and profound political embarrassment that the heist engendered. Compared to the vicious, homicidal scumbags of today, these guys were little more than a bunch of chancers. Notorious Big-Man Ronnie Biggs was only involved by invitation as an afterthought. He was a tradesman, but this job offered more.
It's a low-key representation of the crime which, I suspect, more aptly represents the bumbling, uneducated behaviour of those involved, who simply got very lucky, and then became extremely notorious. Collins excels as the working-class wideboy, getting in far too deep and never stopping to consider the broader implications of stopping one of Her Majesty's Mail trains, and stealing millions of pounds.
His confusion and inability to contend with the juggernaut that follows is entirely believable. Likewise Julie Walters as his long-suffering but doting moll of a wife, torn between what the proceeds could offer and her hankering for an ordinary, stable family life.
The culture clash in Mexico is perfectly realised. Untravelled and untutored English homebodies who have never done anything more exotic than pick winkles on Southend Pier, suddenly find themselves in a hot, tropical paradise that actually proves to be anything but. They can't have the food and drink they grew up with. Everything is 'foreign'. They don't\understand the language, the currency; they're confused by everything and everyone. Like true Brits abroad; they don't adapt well. His wife is first to crack, transported away from all of her family and friends, the familiar if drab neighbourhoods that now seem like heaven. The culture-clash is finally shattered open when one of their children sickens and they have no idea what to do or say. They can make no sense of the hospital. Their anxiety and confusion is an object-lesson. For 'er-indoors'; it's the last straw.
Eventually, stricken with home-sickness and with finances depleted; Edwards goes back to face the music. The establishment will show no mercy. It's a blatant miscarriage of justice. But it was not the first, nor would it be the last.
We finally see him at his flower stall, much older and little wiser. Edwards was a hapless nobody, a small-time criminal prospector who hit paydirt. The Robbery was the second biggest thing he experienced because it changed his life. His wretched suicide much later was the biggest, because that ended it.
It's a movie that I found thoroughly entertaining against all expectations, and won over a deeply-held prejudice about popstars taking to an acting career, and using their singing status to leapfrog undiscovered strugglers.