Golden Years sees Bernard Hill’s pensioner begin knocking-off banks to get back his lost pension. Director John Miller’s heist comedy sounds like fun but is sadly far from it.
Sporting a wonderful ensemble of British character actors from Bernard Hill and Simon Callow to Phil Davis and Sue Johnston, Golden Years has an appealing glamour. But, despite the best of intentions, this Middle England tale of OAPs knocking off banks to rekindle their lost pensions forgets subtly in favour of syrupy sentimentalism. The talented cast of film and TV veterans are game for a jaunt in their waders but they’re toughing it out on a journey that should have been far more enjoyable.
The set-up sounds great. In a post-banking-crisis Britain, hard-working folk like Arthur (Hill) and Martha (Virginia McKenna) are being bitten by neoliberal exploitation of the financial system. As bankers hold their hands up saying “it wasn’t me” while taking home their million-pound bonuses, pensioners are learning there’s not enough money in the coffers to pay up. Unable to afford his wife’s medication due to a change in NHS policy and learning that his beloved bowls club could be sold to unscrupulous investors, Arthur believes enough is enough.
He’s helped on his way to becoming a bank-robbing mastermind by a piece of good fortune when he accidentally knocks over a security guard and steals the money box in his possession while he’s out cold. Seeing what large amounts of money can do to help his friends and family, he begins to plot further robberies to the chagrin of the local police who have no clue who their culprit is.
It should be fun. Unfortunately it isn’t. Even the refreshing sight of a cast of over 60’s instead of Hollywood’s penchant for young, magazine-cover stars, doesn’t help. There’s a genuine sense that these terrific actors are simply going through the motions. It’s easy to the point the finger at director John Miller. Indeed, Golden Years often feels like one of the children’s TV episodes Miller made for the BBC, both in style (the heavy-handed overuse of breezy rock-pop to plot the film episodically) and substance (he had a hand in the script which spells things out for an audience it believes can’t think for itself).
Miller’s heart is in the right place and there’s a unique, anti-heroic righteousness to old age pensioners stealing back their nest eggs. Indeed, he has an eye for aesthetic pleasantries but the foundations are creaky. If things aren’t being telegraphed then we’re progressing with the artificiality of TV soap opera, the spiritless dialogue leaving characters empty vessels only opening their mouths to propel the plot with exposition and repetition. It’s a shame when you have such talent at your disposal. The likes of Callow and Davis, who admittedly have only supporting roles, have rarely been this forgettable.
There’s more mileage to be gained from Hill who tries to enliven wooden material. He fails to see anything wrong with his misdemeanours because, as he says, he’s only taking back what was taken from him. It’s an uneasy logic, indicative of the script as a whole. Yet, despite his heists geared around flaky masterplans (and a cucumber secreted in a black bin liner) that would only ever work in the world of make-believe, you can’t help being on the crook’s side hoping he gets away with it. But the stakes never feel high. Indeed, there’s not a single moment you consider “Grannie Bonnie” and “Granddad Clyde” will fail to sail away into the sunset.
Sapped of intrigue it’s little wonder a subplot involving the police investigation falls similarly flat. Brad Moore’s caricatured Stringer is the egotistical detective more eager to impress a fervent media and ascend the ranks within his department than catch bad guys. It’s Alun Armstrong’s toes that get stepped on as veteran cop Sid who finds his investigation ripped from beneath him by this accolade-hungry upstart. It’s silly and lighthearted but belies Miller’s attempts elsewhere to add poignancy to proceedings, making it feel uncomfortably manufactured (like Callow’s West Country accent). And that’s a million miles away from where the sappy Golden Years surely wants to be.
Written by Dan Stephens
Top 10 Films reviewed Golden Years on DVD courtesy of Content Media. The film is released on iTunes & DVD August 29