Golden oldies! More roles for mature actors

Producers are scrambling to make 'gran-coms' for older audiences

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The Independent Culture

They are the celluloid crinklies, long since resigned to playing character parts. But a new crop of films starring more mature actors is giving the likes of Vanessa Redgrave and Diane Keaton a new lease of life in Hollywood.

Film producers are scrambling to produce movies featuring septuagenarian stars in an attempt to lure sixty- and seventysomething audiences to cinemas. Redgrave leads a strong cast in Song for Marion, a British drama out next month, while Maggie Smith plays a retired opera singer in Quartet, the Dustin Hoffman-directed retirement comedy that opened across Britain last week.

The so-called "gran-coms" follow last year's break-out success The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, also starring Maggie Smith, which took more than $134m (£83m) at the box office, as well as the French language hit Amour and Clint Eastwood's Trouble with the Curve.

Emma Soames, editor-at-large of Saga magazine, yesterday said Best Exotic had "proved that there was an audience that film-makers weren't previously reaching out to, green-lighting the industry for others". She added: "These 'pensioner-pound' films are indicative that subjects pertaining to old age are no longer regarded as unsexy."

Cinema audiences are getting older, with younger viewers often choosing to download films or watch movies online instead of visiting their local Odeon. Soames said: "Hollywood has been cut off at its knees. Older people love going to the movies, and they love the experience. There's also a wealth of talent among older directors and fabulous older actors. It's a ripe apple tree with a lot of fruit on it at the moment."

Christine Langan, head of BBC Films, which made Quartet, denied being influenced by Best Exotic. "It's probably a coincidence that they've occurred at similar times because it indicated a changing taste and desire."

She said "senior dramas" often had stronger plots than traditional romantic comedies, adding: "Stories are given time to develop and the films are given 'classic' themes. It's refreshing to see something other than the adrenalised action films of Hollywood, and we're excited that people want to see drama.

"Film exhibitors have found that older audiences are really enjoying the experience of cinema, so they're acting as curators. Hopefully what this shows is that our baby-boomers are fit, healthy and affluent. Being in your sixties and seventies doesn't exactly mean you're homebound. Sixty is the new fifty."

The trend isn't confined to leading women: 69-year-old Robert De Niro has a bumper 2013 in store with roles in three big films. His performance as Bradley Cooper's sports-obsessed father in Silver Linings Playbook is already being tipped for a third Academy Award before the Oscar nominations are even released. He plays alongside such veterans as Michael Douglas and Morgan Freeman in the last-blast Last Vegas, out later this year.

The impact of the big screen is also influencing other genres, such as television, theatre and publishing. Hilary Boyd, the Marian Keyes of the over-sixties world, is causing a storm with her Thursdays in the Park, along with Fanny Blake's Women of a Dangerous Age and Elizabeth Buchan's Daughters. Meanwhile, Vanessa Redgrave will be back in the West End this summer, playing Beatrice in the Old Vic's Much Ado about Nothing, opposite James Earl Jones's Benedick.

Hyde Park on Hudson

UK release date 01/02/2013

Roger Michell's biographical comedy-drama tells the story of the love affair between Franklin D Roosevelt and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley, set in 1939 when King George VI visited New York. Bill Murray, 62, is as strong as ever in the lead role alongside Laura Linney.

Last Vegas

UK release date 20/12/13

What better motley crew of actors with a combined age of 277 to star in an old-age-pensioners-meets-The Hangover flick, Last Vegas, than Robert De Niro, with Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline? The foursome play best friends who decide to throw a Las Vegas bachelor party for the only one of them to remain single.


UK release date 01/01/2013

The stalwart septuagenarian cast of Tom Courtenay, Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon star in Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut, which sees a home for retired opera singers disrupted by the arrival of Jean, a diva and ex-wife of one of the residents. Comparisons have been with last year's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Song for Marion

UK release date 08/02/2013

Terence Stamp plays Arthur, the grumpy old man to Vanessa Redgrave's enthusiastic-but-dying Marion, in this British quasi-musical comedy-drama. In order to please his wife, Arthur joins the choir and, in doing so, loses some of his bitterness. Some critics said songs such as Motorhead's drown out what could be a poignant family drama.

Stand Up Guys

UK release date 04/01/2013

The male counterpart to any chick-flick rom-com must be a good old-fashioned comedy-crime, which Fisher Steven's Stand Up Guys delivers in spades. Hollywood veterans Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin and Al Pacino play aging con men who try to get their old gang back together for one last hurrah. With its slick cast and plot, it looks promising.