The past few years has an growth in the amount of movies made by and aimed at the older generation. The lives and experiences of those over 65 has been seen in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel And its sequel, Quartet, and more recently in Youth and 45 Years. The film industry is fast becoming aware of the power of the grey pound and is creating cinema to reach this neglected group.
Each of the previously mentioned films deal with the post-retirement life of their characters living in their own homes, rest homes or searching for peace abroad, but one thing all these films have in common is that the characters seem to have endless resources to enjoy their twilight years. A luxury, that in reality, a dwindling number of pensioners are able to enjoy. So what happens when the money that has been earned or saved through a pension scheme simply disappears. Well, in writer-director John Miller’s latest, they become bank robbers.
Golden Years centres around the relationship between Arthur (Bernard Hill) and Martha (Virginia McKenna), an elderly married couple living in Bristol, and their friends who all frequent the local bowling club (an impressive cast of Phil Davis, Una Stubbs, Sue Johnstone, Ellen Thomas, and Simon Callow). Each has their own money worries and are in danger of losing their homes & livelihoods.
Martha’s “toy-boy” husband (Hill, aged 71 to McKenna’s 84) is a kind-hearted fellow who is looking out for all those around him, but when his pension scheme goes bust and he is in danger of being left without a penny he begins to plan a bank robbery. A plan that he accidentally carries out. Martha is at first unaware of her husband’s crime, but when she finds out soon joins him on a crime spree around the West Country in their caravan. To undertake these increasingly elaborate heists they don old people rubber masks to hide their identities in a nod to another famous heist movie – O.A.Point Break, maybe.
The local police become convinced that the robbers must be professional criminals and set out to hunt them down. The police have their own older officer in the form of Alun Armstrong’s hard-working Sid (covering similar ground to his role in BBC’s New Tricks) and a younger officer hungry for fame and stepping over Sid’s experience, Stringer (Brad Moore). Stringer is a cross between Ricky Gervais’ David Brent and Sylvester Stallone’s Lt. Marian “Cobra” Cobretti, but it is unfortunately not nearly as funny as that suggests.
In fact, any time the elder statesmen (and stateswomen) aren’t on screen the little goodwill the film has built up is lost. Any character under 65 is either an idiot or an unfeeling automaton only to happy to fleece the pensioners for all they’re worth. The experienced cast are let down by a weak script that doesn’t serve the story or characters. The time-frame of the story is very unclear and at one point completely baffling. It has its funny moments and does pull at the heart strings, but, despite the best efforts of a hugely talented cast, it just isn’t as funny as it needs to be.
The screenplay, written by the director with Jeremy Sheldon and television’s Nick Knowles (DIY S.O.S.), doesn’t give us any clue why Arthur would immediately turn to crime to make money and the planning of the, eventually unnecessary, first robbery comes out of nowhere. Director of photography Adam Lincoln does his best to jazz up the action by including time-lapse footage of Bristol, drone shots of National Trust sites, and slo-mo during the action scenes; although he does overuse a variation on Tarantino’s trademark trunk shot.
The soundtrack is made up nearly completely of cover versions (which is apt as the film is caricature of so many other bank robbery movies), including a compulsory take on the late David Bowie’s titular track. Given the setting at the heart of the piece and the clubs entertainment of a look alike act this does fit well within the context of the story and doesn’t seem like the production not being able to afford the rights to the originals.
Golden Years begins with a quote from Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night”, and the radio repeatedly informs us of the crisis in pensions and care for the elderly. This constant reminder of reality contrasts harshly against the comical fantasy of the film. It is time for a British film to tell the story of those who are left without pensions, without loved ones, without the benefits which they believed a lifetime of employment had earned them, but unfortunately this rather weak comic look at the issue isn’t it.
Golden Years arrive in UK cinemas on April 29th, 2016.