Title: Golden Years
Director: John Miller
Major Players: Bernard Hill, Virginia McKenna, Alun Armstrong, Sue Johnston
Out Of Five: 2
Heard the one about the TV presenter who wrote the screenplay for a film? It was intended to be a comedy, but sadly it turned out to be more of a joke.
Golden Years was co-written by its director, John Miller, and a certain Nick Knowles (DIY SOS etc). It’s about the efforts of a group of older people to get back their dwindling pensions, which they’ve lost because of inflation, bankruptcy, crooked bankers or a combination of all three. They choose a risky route – bank robbery. The first one is a lucky accident, but they get a taste for it and the other heists are deliberately planned, especially as the money is needed for specific – and good – reasons. Despite their lack of criminal experience, they always manage to stay at least one step ahead of the police.
So it’s unashamedly aimed at the so-called “grey market”. That, in itself, can be mildly irritating but when the clichés are piled this high, it gets close to being insulting. As the lights go down, the film starts with a burst of Bowie’s Golden Years. I kid you not. Imagination and creativity are very much in short supply, and it doesn’t say much for the film’s attitude to the people it’s aimed at. Just because the characters and the potential audience have a few grey hairs doesn’t mean they don’t know the thunder of a whopping cliché when they hear one!
If the film was devoid of interesting themes, it wouldn’t be so bad. The trouble is, there are plenty, but they’re all utterly squandered and not even given a chance to get going, let alone develop. There’s whole issue of declining pension values, for whatever reason, and the implications for the lives of older people. There’s care homes and how they treat their patients: the one in the film looks pleasant enough from the outside, but is cold and impersonal inside. And there’s the attitudes of the young towards older people, represented here by a boy racer who frequently nearly runs down Bernard Hill’s character. All relevant, topical subjects for a film maker to get their teeth into, but here they’re just skimmed over – when they’re mentioned at all.
That said, it’s meant to be a comedy, but you can count the number of laughs on the fingers of both hands, at the very best. Most of them come from Simon Callow, who brings with him the possibility of another title for the film. Four Bank Robberies And A Funeral. He’s channelling Gareth from the Richard Curtis comedy, but this time as an enthusiastic amateur actor, with Una Stubbs as his tolerant wife. And, yes, he over-acts, but at least he brings some real gusto and humour to proceedings.
The rest of the cast is packed with British character actors, many of whom are more familiar in grittier roles – Bernard Hill, Phil Davis, Sue Johnston. And there’s also Stubbs, Virginia McKenna making a welcome return to the big screen, and Alun Armstrong. But the script is so flat and insipid that they’re almost on a hiding to nothing. Hill emerges with the most credit as the original accidental bank robber, a solid, unremarkable but likeable man who’s worked and saved all his life and who now feels he’s been sold down the river. Poor Alun Armstrong as the police inspector looks positively embarrassed throughout: you can’t blame him, as he’s leading a team of officers who are direct descendants of the Keystone Cops, but missed out on their comic talents.
It’s all a terrible disappointment, squandering not just a talented cast, but also the opportunity to take on a serious issue or two in an entertaining way. Worse still, it commits the cardinal sin of patronising its target audience. I mean, they’re only interested in bingo, caravans and playing bowls, aren’t they?
Note to Mr Knowles. Don’t give up the day job just yet.
Golden Years is released in cinemas on Friday, 29 April and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 28 April.