Directed by: John Miller
Starring: Bernard Hill, Simon Callow, Philip Davis, Virginia McKenna
Swapping partitions for pensioners, ‘DIY SOS’ presenter Nick Knowles make his screenwriting debut with this madcap crime caper. Blending light-hearted laughs and social-realist concerns, the ever-present daytime TV personality clearly aspires to capture the sharp spirit of classic Ealing comedies in his text, and no doubt hopes to emulate their success, but its staging is so flatly indifferent that it’s unlikely Golden Years will cause much of a carry-on.
The loaded subject of our Nation’s ongoing pensions crisis forms the framework: retirees Arthur and Martha Goode (Bernard Hill & Virginia McKenna) lead simple lives – bowls, bingo and bed by 10. But things become much more complicated after Arthur discovers that his pension has been lost by the bankers.
A lazy reliance on radio broadcasts to supply exposition has us regularly informed that this is a setback suffered silently by many of their generation, but Arthur and Martha refuse to accept such injustice. Faced with financial uncertainty, the couple turn to a life of crime, replenishing their retirement pot by carrying out bank heists across the South West. It isn’t long, however, until they find themselves being pursued by a determined local detective (Alun Armstrong, sadly more convincing when complaining about the cracked yolk on his breakfast than when trying to catch the criminals).Knowles liberally seasons his prose with hackneyed humour and silly sitcom slapstick that forever falls flat, but aided by the plucky performances of Hill and McKenna – their screen chemistry sparkling like the sun as it hits the ripples of the River Avon on a midsummer’s day – the film finds fun, and even brief moments of tension, in the couple’s chaotic execution of their planned robberies.
Weakness, however, takes an all-consuming genesis in the barely functioning direction of John Miller. His inconsistent tone veers so wildly between sunny and sombre dispositions that their combined impact is less than minimal, while the luminous portrait of British suburbia he paints appears so artificial that it strikes as artistically shallow.
More problematic is the fundamental lack of honesty and pathos within Miller and Knowles’ musings on the realities of late life (the pair co-wrote the script with Jeremy Sheldon): an awkward contrast with the eminently popular Marigold Hotel franchise, of which this is a hollow imitation. Here the generational divide is solely defined by a viciously stereotypical inability to understand one another, an ignorant attitude so lazy and brash that it sometimes borders on offensive. For a film so rich with potential, it’s almost astonishing to discover how diminutive the payout is here.