Spoiler-free Derren Brown: The Great Art Robbery review

Review Rachel Bowles
13 Dec 2013 - 17:28

Here's a spoiler-free look at what to expect from the latest Derren Brown special: The Great Art Robbery...

The Great Art Robbery is a welcome return for Derren Brown after the success of his previous specials seasons, most memorably The Apocalypse, a large-scale illusion leading the poor unsuspecting Steven Brosnan to believe the world had come to an end and the lives of some of the innocent survivors were in his hands. It was an elaborate attempt to remind Steven and subsequently the audience that life is about stepping up and taking responsibility, not wasting the opportunities in front of you.

Where The Apocalypse was full of special effects, elaborate locations and one grand illusion to try to sway Steven’s innate responses, The Great Art Robbery feels like a return to the basics and some of Derren Brown’s simpler and therefore more ingenious tactics and skills.

It would entirely defy the point of watching the show if I were to reveal any major tricks, plot points or conclusions, so please do excuse my somewhat evasive reasoning, but please trust me, you will be pleased you knew nothing of the intricacies when you come to view it, as it is such a treat to watch the story unfold.

The Great Art Robbery is 81 minutes but whistles along at quite a pace, as Brown recruits and trains a team of Old Age Pensioners to help him steal a valuable work of art from a millionaire’s gallery (Don’t worry, that bit was in the Channel 4 trailer). The premise is refreshing as the key focus is on training the pensioners and imparting Brown's knowledge, rather than making them unwitting subjects or the protagonists in a much larger scale set up. It makes the show feel more pure and pared down, as it is less reliant on the special effects and tricks witnessed in The Apocalypse or Hero at 30,000 feet. Therefore as a one-off special, it is much more reminiscent of some of Brown’s earlier series such as Trick of the Mind.

I don’t, however, want to create the illusion that this makes the show boring or slow, quite the opposite, The Great Art Robbery still presents a real element of danger and incorporates all the hoped for misdirection and the ‘How did he do that?...Demon!’ moments you could hope for from Mr Brown. As is often the case with the one off specials, the smaller tricks and demonstrations of skill keep you enthralled and build the expectation and excitement for the final act of the show.

The pensioners themselves, who are willingly recruited to help Brown with his plan, are incredibly likeable from the outset and the underlying message of remembering to cherish the skills and life experiences of our older generation is engaging and poignant without being laid on too thickly. Their exhilaration and enthusiasm for what they are asked to do is infectious and allows you to feel part of the action and preparations as they approach their new skill acquisition with the same innocence and enthusiasm you feel you would have in their position.

Some of their initial attempts at trying out what Brown has taught them make you cringe slightly, as the pressure on them begins to build, however this contributes to a feeling that his plan is perhaps not as water-tight as first thought and captures your attention as you start to doubt whether it will in fact be successful, especially when combined with the clear nerves being displayed by all of them, including Brown.

Some of the music and drifting camera shots used throughout the programme immediately bring Reservoir Dogs, The Ocean’s Trilogy and The Thomas Crown Affair to mind, a resemblance I hope was intentional as it really fuels the feeling that Brown is leading a heist reliant on a team of skilled professionals each with their own unique talents and reason for being there, with him taking more of the Danny Ocean role, rather than the perhaps more apt ‘Mr Brown’.

To delve any more into the machinations, tricks, illusions or the actual plan itself would be a disservice to anyone intending to tune in to the show, however the build up and pay off are satisfying, ingenious and simple all at the same time,  to my mind a sign of a great Derren Brown special. I would encourage you to take the phone off the hook, or employ whatever TV recording device you have to hand as any slight interruptions, or distractions, could really infuriate you and lead you to miss something crucial!

Derren Brown: The Great Art Robbery airs on Channel 4 at 9pm on Friday the 13th of December.

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