A QUINTESSENTIALLY British film about the 2015 Hatton Garden safe deposit heist, the crime of the decade in the UK and potentially one of the last films to star Sir Michael Caine, was written by a playwright from Adelaide, Joe Penhall.
The film, King of Thieves, stars a rollcall of British acting gentry, including Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent and Ray Winstone, as the elderly robbers of the underground safe deposit facility It premiered in London last month and will be shown in Adelaide during the British Film Festival, which opens this week.
Penhall studied History and English at the University of Adelaide, wrote for a specialist medical magazine and played in bands before leaving for London aged 22 “to become a famous playwright”.
“Absurdly, of all of the things that I tried, that was the one that worked,” Penhall said from London.
He arrived in the UK in the 1990s and within two years had a play performed at the Royal Court.
His Hollywood breakthrough came when Australian director John Hillcoat commissioned him to adapt the apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy novel, The Road, into a film starring Viggo Mortensen and, coincidentally, a young Adelaide actor Kodi Smit-McPhee.
Just under a decade later, he has written the lines for Caine, Gambon, Broadbent and Winstone, even finessing them for cadence on set after rehearsing with them.
“(The gang) weren’t loveable rogues in any way, they were pretty typical crooks really, very self-absorbed, very vain, very sure that one day there would be a movie or a book about them,” he said.
“They were also pretty stupid but with an unmistakeable animal cunning. And there was a lot of bickering going on, a lot of power struggles.”
Penhall said he got to know the actors well and was in awe of their “linguistic athleticism”, which gave him the scope to tailor their lines into a kind of bespoke script.
In another coincidence Penhall is the writer and creator of the Netflix psychological crime drama, Mindhunter, which also stars Adelaide actor Damon Herriman in a guest role as Charles Manson.
See the British Film Festival at the Palace Nova Eastend and Prospect from October 24 to November 14.