‘The Heiress and the Heist’ captures crimes of debutante-turned-IRA rebel

Why would a daughter of immense British privilege rebel as spectacularly as Rose Dugdale did in the 1970s, supporting the Irish Republican Army in its notorious fight against English rule by robbing her family paintings by Goya, Gainsborough and Vermeer worth millions?

Dugdale’s mind-boggling crossover from a debutante presented to the Queen to a revolutionary engineering that multi-million dollar art heist from her father’s rural Ireland estate is the focus of the three-part Sundance Now/AMC+ documentary, “The Heiress and the Heist.”

“It’s a very well-known story in Ireland because Rose Dugdale is an extraordinary person who left privilege as the daughter of a very wealthy British man,” director David Harvey began in a Zoom interview from Dublin. “She goes to Oxford,  becomes radicalized as a young person, then joins the IRA and is involved in some of the most high-profile criminal acts in Irish history. It is an extraordinary story.”

Dugdale’s headline-making heist, then “the greatest art theft in history,” was an effort, Harvey said, “To get some of their IRA friends out of prison.

“It all failed spectacularly. When she goes to prison, her boyfriend Eddie Gallagher, who she had also been involved with in the arts heist, he then kidnapped a Dutch industrialist who lived in Ireland. He held him for the longest siege of any kidnap ever in Ireland in order to try and get Rose Dugdale out of prison.

“So all these crazy acts lead to others, all of which were botched. So it’s A Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight, if you like. But as one of our contributors says in the documentary, ‘Just because they didn’t shoot straight, doesn’t mean they couldn’t shoot.’ In other words, all of the acts that she was involved with could have killed people.

“She was involved, for example, in the abduction of people and the hijacking of a helicopter to drop milk churns full of explosives on a police station in Northern Ireland. Which went wrong.

“Obviously, she would have shot her way out of trouble if the paintings had been discovered by police at certain times. In the kidnapping of the of the industrialist, which was really at her behest, there’s no doubt that had things gone wrong, they would have shot their way out.”

Also impressive that Dugdale could even join the IRA.  “Particularly given the fact that the IRA was a notoriously secretive organization, she was a most unusual and exotic creature to join the IRA.”

When he finished the doc, what did Harvey really think about Rose?

“She was committed, a rebel. It’s just very odd that somebody like her would find a cause like this would be to her liking. She resented her privilege. Why? I don’t know.”

“The Heiress and the Heist” premieres Thursday on Sundance Now and AMC+


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