sat 13/07/2024

Golden Years | reviews, news & interviews

Golden Years

Golden Years

Gentle comedy about elderly bank-robbers ends up reconfirming the very cliches it sets out to challenge

Unlikely Robin Hoods: ageing bank robbers steal from the rich to give to the elderly in John Miller's well-meaning comedy

There’s a great film waiting to be made about the demographic crisis – old-age poverty, worthless pensions, abuse of the elderly, ramshackle retirement homes, disregard from the young. Likeable though it is, this breezy tale of ageing bank-robbing Robin Hoods from writer/director John Miller (with a little help from TV’s Nick Knowles as co-writer/exec producer) isn’t that film.

It’s ironic, in fact, to preface the movie with Dylan Thomas’s lines about not going gentle into that good night when the last thing the film does is to rage against the dying of the light. Gentle the film’s good-natured, well-meaning comedy most certainly is, soft-edged and reassuring too – but it’s also so full of stock characters and movie cliches that the whole thing feels a bit like a missed opportunity.

Golden YearsBernard Hill and Virginia McKenna (pictured right, with Una Stubbs and Simon Callow) give stoic performances, nonetheless, as ageing every-people Arthur and Martha, beset by what seems rather a contrived sequence of financial problems – a failing pension and lack of funds for essential drugs chief among them. Pushed, accidentally at first, into a life of crime, they go on a spree of bank robberies in the south-west of England – and of course, being the feeble oldies that they are, they’re the last people to be suspected of the heists.

Alongside Hill and McKenna, there’s an astonishingly strong supporting cast, from Simon Callow’s deluded thespian Royston to Una Stubbs, Sue Johnston and Phil Davis. Sadly, once sketched in they’re hardly developed at all – and even the sudden demise of one of them halfway through the film hardly registers.

There are plenty of good things, however. McKenna in particular gives a remarkably sensitive, moving performance as the increasingly frail Martha, and at the other end of the spectrum, there are more than a handful of saucy nods in the direction of old-age sex. And in one telling scene, old-time detective Sid (Alun Armstrong) encounters exactly the same discrimination in the investigation room that our anti-heroes face every day on the streets.

Golden YearsBut Miller is unabashed with his stereotypes too, from swaggering perma-tanned detective Stringer (Brad Moore, also one of the film’s exec producers, pictured left), whose running joke of correcting others’ English usage unaccountably evaporates halfway through, to rookie cop Dave (Nigel Allen). More worrying, in a film purportedly challenging cliches of the elderly, are the plot’s reliance on bowls, bingo, caravans and visits to National Trust properties.

Golden Years has so little bite that you start to suspect it’s simply afraid of offending – but then again, isn’t that simply committing the same offences that the film itself is challenging?

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Golden Years

Virginia McKenna gives a remarkably sensitive, moving performance as the increasingly frail Martha


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Handyman Nick Knowles ought to be arrested for coming up with such a terrible film. Don't waste your money.

I found the film charming - hilarious in places, but with an edge to it that made it interesting throughout. Great cast, well acted, punchy  message about how we regard the older generation

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