Well meaning, good-natured but saccharine sweet, Golden Years is a British comedy about oldies fighting back against society’s prejudice. It is too cute by half.
Law-abiding retired couple, Arthur (Bernard Hill) and Martha Goode (Virginia McKenna) live a quiet life in suburbia, tending to their garden and socialising with friends. But fate, a pension crisis and steadfast refusal to accept the injustice of old age force Arthur to take matters into his own hands. Circumstances conspire so that he robs a bank and then, along with his wife, another and then another. Picture this – a couple of pensioners hiding their identities with masks and plastic raincoats using a shopping trolley to transport the proceeds of their ill-gotten gain. They embark on a whistle-stop tour of countryside bank branches within easy reach of National Trust properties, which they tour in a caravan. And the bumbling police force seems incapable of tracking them down.
Some of the characters are delightful, playing the naïve card to perfection. Others are just plain galling. Bernard Hill as Arthur leads from the front, with his low-key performance the key to making parts of Golden Years work when it does.
What brings this picture down to Earth with a thud is that it plays the “stupid” card too often. Nuance is all but done away with. That, together with the fact, that the idea that given the oldies lack of smarts they could genuinely get away with what they get away with, is utterly preposterous, even if we wish it to be so. Overall, the doddering elderly and the copper without a clue are clichés brought to life in a script that lacks subtlety and overplays its hand.
Put this in the same category as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy – pure fantasy, but in this case fantasy that tries too hard to please. More is the pity because there are a number of choice scenes that do engage the funny bone – only too few – until we reach the inevitable, happy, all is right with the world again, conclusion. A final reflection – some of the picturesque locations they have chosen for the shoot, notably the Cotswolds, look outstanding … the stuff of picture postcards.
Rated PG, Golden Years scores a 5 out of 10.
Director: John Miller
Cast: Bernard Hill, Virginia McKenna, Simon Callow
Release Date: 1 December 2016
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television