Guilty. Mostly. I'm a Yank of the same persuasion. I liked King's Speech, thought Mamma was funny, and missed Alex Guinness and the BBC version very badly. But, Emma Thompson has been making movies like that for over a decade. Maybe it takes longer for the English to sort that type of thing out. As to the rest, I just assumed no sex was a common theme in Brit film and society.
Ahead of the release of 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel', Anna Smith looks at the rise of films targeting the more mature filmgoer
So, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy head off to an eccentric hotel in India… Just that prospect is enough to entice a certain audience into seeing John Madden’s ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’. And while this retired-Brits-abroad comedy has mass appeal, you can bet a large portion of that audience will be pensioners themselves: those who the film’s hotel manager Sonny (Dev Patel) calls ‘the grey pound’. It’s a growing market, but why? And do distributors know what to do with it?
‘The 60-pluses have a lot of disposable income these days,’ says Xavier Marchand, president of worldwide distribution and MD of Momentum Pictures, who last year coaxed older audiences into cinemas with ‘The King’s Speech’. ‘We had letters from people who hadn’t been to the movies for 40 years. There was so much demand we played it also in smaller towns.’ And in many of those towns, the cinemas were cosy, welcoming affairs. ‘For a lot of older people, the multiplex can be a bit daunting,’ says Marchand. ‘As cinemas are becoming more luxurious, it makes the experience more attractive.’
Clare Binns, programming and acquisitions director of the Picturehouse cinema chain, believes mature audiences prefer a more social cinema experience. ‘The kind of cinemas we run are about hanging out,’ she says. ‘The people who work at our sites tend to be film literate and engaged enough to talk to people – it’s not about a quick in-and-out.’ Binns regularly targets the older market with cultural outings such as the upcoming ‘Madam Butterfly 3D’ and last autumn’s ‘Leonardo Live’ – attractive prospects for a culturally engaged group also happy to save cash.
Binns has big plans for next week’s release of ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’. ‘As a film about an older age group, it’s going to be a key film for us. It speaks to them: it’s about growing older and the challenges you face.’ The film’s director John Madden (‘Mrs Brown’, ‘Shakespeare in Love’) is well aware of the appeal of his new comedy. ‘Nobody ever thinks or feels the age they are – it’s a very contemporary conundrum and we’re exploring that.’ The film opens with the characters facing ill health, financial worries, loneliness… All factors that prompt this disparate group to up sticks to an Indian hotel that promises a pensioner’s paradise. ‘It’s about reaching a part in their lives where opportunities seem to have shrunk,’ says Madden, who brings deft comedy to each sorry scenario, from the furious racism of Maggie Smith’s Muriel to the ailing marriage of Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Douglas (Bill Nighy). ‘There’s a bittersweetness in the palate that develops as you get older,’ he reasons.
Also including Tom Wilkinson and Celia Imrie , the cast of ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ is a ‘phenomenal draw’. ‘These people have worked with one another many times. There’s a lot of familiarity and shared experience with the audience.’ No doubt Deborah Moggach’s source book, ‘These Foolish Things’, will bring fans to the film, much like John Le Carré’s readers turned out for ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’. Around 40 per cent of the audience for ‘Tinker…’ was over the age of 55: exactly the intention of Studiocanal and its head of UK distribution, John Trafford-Owen. ‘We hit our core audience. It was sold as a smarter, older film which people had to engage with.’
As he says, ‘Tinker…’ is the opposite of ‘quick cut’, younger films – as was ‘The King’s Speech’. Xavier Marchand says Momentum had feedback praising the fact that there was ‘no murder, no sex, no car chases’ in ‘The King’s Speech’. While it’s important not to pigeonhole mature audiences, there are certain genres that play well. Historical figures (‘The Queen’, ‘The Iron Lady’) are a case in point and Marchand cites the success of Momentum titles ‘Miss Potter’ and ‘The Young Victoria’. ‘The Artist’ has been a hit with the Picturehouse’s retired customers – as Madden says, it deals with issues of ‘being suspended, forgotten’.
These customers aren’t necessarily being lured in by adverts. ‘They read reviews, they talk to each other,’ says Marchand. And Geoff Andrew, head of film programme at BFI Southbank and a Time Out contributor, finds an open-minded crowd attending its senior matinees. ‘Just because they’ve been around a bit longer doesn’t mean they’re dim or unadventurous. They’ve been watching films and thinking about images in TV and films for longer than a lot of people’.
While the grey pound may have previously been overlooked by producers and distributors, that’s changing. ‘We are certainly paying more attention to this audience on both sides of the Atlantic,’ says Marchand, who’s targeting the market later this year with Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, ‘Quartet’. ‘One thing is clear: there are not enough of these films out there,’ says Binns. ‘The reason “Mamma Mia” reached 50 million people was that it was bringing in the older age group. We really need more of these films – this audience is incredibly loyal and should be encouraged.’
I went to see this film with my grandaughter of 20 & she thoughroughly enjoyed it so dont think this is just for older people, in fact i think younger people should go & see it to get an insight into what its like to grow old ,i actually cried at the gay couple!! the star of course is Maggie Smith . great film. jan
I disagree i am in my sixties nothing in your top ten films would get me to the cinema. The King's Speech was ok. I saw it on tv but this list of middle class middle age english actors leaves me cold. I went to see Tin Tin, War Horse, Woman in Black. I like adventure sometimes violence , horror and imagination. NOt soap operas but on the big screen. Keep Iron Lady, Full Monty, The Queen etc for TV where they belong. The big screen is for real escapism. Thank You, William age 61yrs
"Just because they’ve been around a bit longer doesn’t mean they’re dim or unadventurous". Thanks, Geoff. I don't feel remotely patronised.