Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: John Miller
Stars: Bernard Hill, Virginia McKenna, Alun Armstrong, Simon Callow, Una Stubbs, Phil Davis, Brad Moore, Sue Johnston, Ellen Thomas.
Films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel and Quartet have demonstrated that there is a market for feel good films featuring elderly protagonists. Golden Years is yet another comedy about old folks behaving badly. This comedy about a group of pensioners turned bank robbers could have been a decent tale, but the film is ultimately let down by some cliched plot elements in the second half. It unfortunately falls a little flat and runs out of legs by the end.
Arthur Goode (Bernard Hill, from Titanic, etc) and his wife Maude (Virginia McKenna, from the classic Born Free, etc) find that their pension fund has been depleted thanks to a dodgy financial advisor and the greedy bank managers. They grow desperate about their financial future. After an accident in which he takes money from an armoured car making a delivery to a local bank, Arthur stumbles upon the idea of robbing banks to ensure their future.
Arthur and Maude head off in a newly acquired luxurious Winnebago, supposedly to travel and see some heritage listed National Trust homes. Wearing heavy disguises, they also rob a few banks on the way. This geriatric Bonnie and Clyde seem to get away with their audacious crimes, and decide to quit. The police meanwhile seem unable to find the well organised gang of thieves who are committing these daring robberies.
But when their beloved local bowling club, the vital hub of the community, is threatened with foreclosure Arthur and Maude find themselves embarking on one last heist. This time though they have enlisted the enthusiastic assistance of some of their closest friends, fellow pensioners who are also struggling to make ends meet.
The script, from first time writer Nick Knowles (better known as a lifestyle presenter on British television), tries hard to recreate the charm and eccentric nature of those classic Ealing comedies of yesteryear. This mildly endearing and amiable enough heist comedy elicits a measure of sympathy for the plight of its elderly protagonists. The film manages to work in some serious and pertinent themes examining the plight of the elderly in contemporary society and about how society treats its elderly. They are vulnerable to government cut backs, ageing and dying, and are also often confined to uncaring nursing homes that sedate them and fail to keep their minds and bodies active so that they virtually waste away.
This is the first feature film for director John Miller since the laboured and little seen 2002 comedy Living In Hope, which dealt with younger protagonists. Miller’s direction is at times laboured and the pace is uneven. There is some slapstick humour and a couple of earnest performances from the leads. And there is some nice scenery of the Cotswolds, the picturesque British countryside and several small rural villages, nicely shot by cinematographer Adam Lincoln (who worked with Miller on the tv series Andy’s Prehistoric Adventures).
Miller has assembled a good cast of veteran British thespians, but some of them are wasted with some thin and under developed characters. There are also some broadly drawn and unbelievable characters that grate. Brad Moore is over the top and hams it up as Stringer, an unconvincing narcissistic and glory hungry and headline hunting cop who sees the manhunt as an opportunity to outshine Sid (Alun Armstrong, from tv series New Tricks, etc) a veteran detective. Armstrong finds himself in a familiar role as a cop on the trail of the bank robbers and he brings an uptight intensity to his performance. The cast also includes Phil Davis, Simon Callow (from Four Weddings And A Funeral, etc) as a struggling actor, and Una Stubbs (from the classic sitcom Till Death Do Us Part, etc) is his sex starved wife Shirley, who eventually join Arthur’s gang of crooks who can’t walk straight.