We don't need more films for old people. We just need more good films

A week in arts: Why Dame Maggie Smith is wrong about Hollywood, it's not about the economy stupid and anonymous art at the Frieze Art Fair

Related Topics

One certainty of the thespian life is that, when actresses reach
a certain age, they will lament the lack of roles for older
actresses. The estimable Patricia Hodge has added a new twist to
this. In voicing the lament recently, she added that there always
seemed to be roles for the holy trinity of Maggie Smith, Judi Dench
and Vanessa Redgrave. It was the rest of the women of a certain age
who were feeling deprived. I look to Julian Fellowes to bring some
happiness here. He has already brought Shirley MacLaine across the
. Now he must be patriotic and introduce a host of aunts
and great aunts, all with some vicarious claim to the Downton
estate, or maybe old flames of Hugh Bonneville's Lord Grantham
arriving to shame him into coming clean.

This week Dame Maggie herself gave a twist to the debate, saying Hollywood should make more films for "elderly people". Speaking at the premiere of the film Quartet, she said: "It seems to me there is a change in what audiences want to see," she said. "I can only hope that's correct, because there's an awful lot of people of my age around now and we outnumber the others. I don't think films about elderly people have been made very much. But I think of [films like] Cocoon and Driving Miss Daisy and they always seem to be fairly successful, so it's a bit baffling as to why everybody has to be treated as if they were five years old."

She may have momentarily forgotten her excellent cameos as Professor Minerva McGonagall in a certain children's franchise. But it didn't matter too much what Dame Maggie said, the fascinating fact was that she said anything. Dame Maggie's public utterances are so rare, she makes Bob Dylan look a positive chatterbox. So every word from this national treasure is treasured. But on this occasion she may only be half right. Of course, Hollywood has long needed to grow up and make more films which address real concerns. But, what with Dame Maggie's new film Quartet, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and several other contemporary vehicles about old age, the baby boomers are actually having a mini-boom.

The bigger point, though, is that I feel she is wrong to assume that audiences, whatever their age, only want a mirror of their own lives in art, be it film, theatre or TV. A good work of art is likely to be seen by an audience embracing more than one demographic. At a good film one should be able to look round the stalls and see all ages. I expect that will be the case at the new Bond movie, I expect it will be the case at Quartet. The heart sinks at the thought of Hollywood targeting specific age groups with film treatments that it decides will speak to the needs of affluent old people. Much better to have scripts that carry universal messages. If they are well written, well directed and well acted, the audience will comprise every age group. Maggie Smith is, as Patricia Hodge, says, on camera a lot, and thank goodness for that. But in front of the screens life isn't that gloomy, and audiences are thankfully far from segregated by age. There's still a communal feel in the cinema, and a healthy curiosity to learn about the trials and joys of every age.

It's not about the economy, stupid

The former National Theatre artistic director, Sir Richard Eyre, told students at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance: "Don't let's fall into the trap prepared by the Government zealots of thinking that anything that can't be measured or quantified or traded is to be discouraged and disparaged. We need the arts to help change our world. We need the arts to enable us to put ourselves in the minds, eyes, ears and hearts of other human beings." He is so right. But let's not forget that for years the arts world itself has tried to impress government by stressing "the economic importance of the arts", to quote the title of one influential report. It is good to see that particular line of argument being challenged.

The shock of discovering who painted your purchase

I was struck at the Frieze Art Fair that a few of the booths manned by the world's leading galleries (the Gagosian, for example) just had their artworks on show. By this I don't just mean that they didn't have a price visible (though they didn't) they didn't even have a label saying who the work was by. This certainly added a frisson. One had to pronounce to one's companions, and to oneself, on the quality of the painting without being helped in one's admiration, disdain or downright snobbery by knowing who had painted it. I do hope that those galleries continued to have the courage of their convictions when negotiating a sale, and refused to say who the artist was until the cheque was signed.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

Andrew Grice

When a small amount of desk space means the world

Rebecca Armstrong
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own