Telling the story of a pensioner couple Arthur and Martha, played by Bernard Hill and Virginia McKenna, respectively, they decide to take back what they believe to be rightfully theirs (with one eye on saving the local social club) and so start robbing banks alongside their close friends and associates, with actors such as Sue Johnston, Alun Armstrong, Simon Callow, Una Stubbs, Mark Williams and Phil Davis all featuring. For the latter, it was nothing short of a joy being on set with a group of of such revered, experienced talent.
“A lot of these people are old friends,” Davis told us in his trailer. “It makes for a nice atmosphere on set, we’re relaxed with each other.”
Such commendation also extends to the director John Miller, though Davis admits that the atmosphere on cast is not always foretelling of how the final product may be.
“John has been smashing. He’s been under a lot of pressure, but you wouldn’t know it. The thing is, no matter what the atmosphere is like on set, there’s no correlation with the finished product,” he continued. “Sometimes it’s less than pleasant but it turns out to be a good film. Sometimes it’s wonderful on set and turns out to be a turkey, you never know. But there’s no reason to be pessimistic about this – but i’m always cautious. A glass half empty person [laughs] – then if it does work and it’s a big success, it’s a bonus!”
For Miller, working with such a treasured cast was always a huge part of the appeal, and what tempted him to write the screenplay in the first place, which he did alongside TV personality Nick Knowles.
“This came from a short film I did ten years ago and myself and Nick Knowles developed it. I wanted to do something about older folk really struggling. These people are thrown on the scrapheap and forgotten about,” he said. “It’s been wonderful and lovely to do. The actors take their parts and make them their own. They’re fantastic, really, the talent we have from that age group is extraordinary. Joyous to be around.”
He specially mentioned working with McKenna – a one-time Golden Globe nominated actress, famed for roles in films such as Born Free and A Town Like Alice.
“I knew Virginia McKenna was a great actress, but despite being in her 80s, she just comes alive on screen. She’s been away for so long it’s surprising she hasn’t done more. She hasn’t done a film for 12 years and she’s fantastic. The chemistry between her and Bernard is great. I was hoping between this cast and close group of friends that would come across, and it does. Even more so than I ever expected.”
Though there are inevitably issues in financing when casting with this ilk of performer given their age, Miller is encouraged from the box office triumph of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – hoping to emulate what has been achieved, despite the fact this project was actually born first.
“We were writing this five and a half years ago, so before all that started to happen,” he explained. “I’ve always found older characters more interesting because they’ve lived their lives, they’ve got these stories to tell, and people are more interested in those stories now. There’s a big market out there. But this film talks to a lot of different age groups, I think it will break through that, because people want to see pensioners robbing banks. Even my 11-year-old boy said he’d love to see it – there’s something about it, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a PG – pensioner guidance.
“There’s more faith in these films now, and it’s getting easier. But it was still very, very difficult to get made. But I think there is a faith growing in this type of movie because they are doing well.”
For Davis, finding good roles hasn’t been too much of a struggle, but the Vera Drake and Notes on a Scandal star appreciates it’s not been easy for his contemporaries.
“As I’ve got older the range of characters I play seems to have broadened out,” he said. “I know for some people it narrows down, but it’s not been the case for me and I’ve been very fortunate in that respect. But it is good to see some films with people who are not in the first flush of youth, and not peripheral. We have an ageing population and there is a hunger for films and TV programmes about people who are over 50, and a good idea to address that.”
But that’s not to say the entire cast are of a similar age, and the film’s leading antagonist – the narcissistic cop Stringer, intent on foiling the pensioner’s plans – is played by relative newcomer Brad Moore, who admits the character was a complete joy to embody.
“He’s a narcissistic, metrosexual, machiavellian, selfish, self-obsessed, spray-tanned, heavily groomed copper. So he’s the most distinct character I’ve played so far. Half the police force think he’s a cock and that’s the smart half. The other half worship him and are sycophantic towards him.”
“I’ve only been acting a short while and I always play serious bad guys, so the opportunity to play a bad cop but within a comedic tone, I just jumped at it. He’s the real pantomime villain of the piece. But I find it much easier to play bad guys than good guys. I just performed in a horror film and I played a good guy and I struggled with it. Inherently, it’s easier to tap into your dark side than it is your human, loving side. Certainly for me, anyway.”
“But this character isn’t evil, he’s just ambitious, and through ambition comes machiavellian activity, which is no different to any copper who wants to get to the top. No different to any of us. He’s arrogant and condescending, but not evil or vicious like some of the other bad guys I’ve played. It’s a comedy, after all.”
“It’s a well written script, it’s not Hollywood driven, a quintessentially British piece, which I love. It’s very funny without anyone playing for laughs. It all comes from the story and situation, everyone plays it dead straight.”
While on set, HeyUGuys were able to watch a bank robbery sequence take place, and though comedic – with the characters wearing masks and disguising themselves as elderly citizens (with cucumbers for weapons), while everybody else remains oblivious that’s who is really underneath the costume – the funniest scene we were shown, consisted of Moore, wearing very few clothes…
“I saw one shot and I was horrified,” he laughed. “I did about 150 press ups before the take to try and look a little bit toned, and then they showed me the clip and they lit it from the top down, so I basically look like a pregnant woman. My wedding tackle is just about being held together by a thread. Which makes it funny, at least.”
“They asked if I wanted a closed set and I thought, nah, screw it – I’m an actor. Half the nation are going to see it, why shouldn’t this lot? But I’ve not been romantic yet, and the idea of kissing anyone or making love on screen terrifies me. But looking like a tit in what can only be described as a metaphoric fig leaf, doesn’t bother me in the slightest. If anything I quite enjoyed the humiliation of it, because the character is quite awful.”
Though only shown very brief snippets from the piece, tonally, Golden Years seems to have struck a fine balance between comedy and pathos – and with potential to be shown at film festivals towards the end of the calendar year, this is certainly a film to keep an eye out for. Moore, meanwhile, believes it could be even more than that – if all goes to plan.
“John Miller is a real talent for the future,” he finished. “What he’s written here, I think, has the potential to be as big as The Full Monty – if we get it right.”