Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Millions



UK (UK-US) 2004 : Danny BOYLE : 97 mins

Though set during the run-up to Christmas, Danny Boyle’s Millions takes place in a Britain so sunny and temperate-looking you wonder whether the action is taking place after the climate has been radically altered by global warming. In fact, the time-frame (though unspecified) is in one way decidedly futuristic: in Frank Cottrell Boyce’s script, the UK is about to finally ditch the pound and join the Euro, at the time of writing such an unlikely prospect that any fictional treatment of same should surely involve teleportation, robots and holidays in space.

No matter – this is only the first of several leaps of faith required by a picture whose fairytale-ish atmosphere is the polar opposite from Boyle’s previous feature, the gore-soaked quasi-zombie hit 28 Days Later. Nine-year-old Anthony Cunningham (Lewis McGibbon) and his seven-year-old brother Damian have just moved into a newly-built house with his father Ronnie (James Nesbitt) when Damian stumbles across a bag containing 229,000.

What we know, and Damian doesn’t, is that the money is on its way to be incinerated as part of the currency change-over, and that it’s part of the booty in an elaborate heist planned by unseen villains. One of whom (Christopher Fulford) soon turns up searching for the missing cash. By this stage Anthony and Damian have expressed differing positions about what their next move should be: materialistic Anthony is all for blowing it on pricey luxuries; the more pious Damian – who regularly “chats” with the saints – wants to donate it to good causes. Adding a further complication is the arrival on the scene of Dorothy (Daisy Donovan), a charity fund-raiser who ignites passions dormant in Ronnie since the death of his wife (Jane Hogarth).

Millions soon establishes a bouncy, engaging, amiable atmosphere, just the right side of cute and deploying some nimble CGI effects – there’s a house-building sequence early on that trumps anything in Witness, while the beguilingly low-key appearances of the various saints sees each of them haloed by a smoky nimbus: “Martyrs of Uganda, 1881!” exclaims the hagio-savvy Damian. This is, of course, fundamentally a kiddies’ morality tale building up to the not-so-shocking revelation that “the money just makes everything worse” – compare and contrast this with the refreshingly amoral conclusion of Finnish variant Pearls and Pigs, if you get the chance.

Though not exactly the most fluent young actors in the world (viz. the kids in Shane Meadows‘ pictures) young McGibbon and, especially, Etel, make for a winning twosome and Nesbitt wisely underplays in what’s largely an in-the-sidelines role. The energy level does dip somewhat around the half-way stage, when the Bad Guy’s thrillerish appearances suddenly drag us towards the dreaded territory of the Children’s Film Foundation, but Boyle and Boyce get things back on track with the finale – quite literally so, as a railway line is the setting for the climax in which the late Mrs Cunningham makes a brief, moving “appearance”. And that’s not all – impish cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle may be having a little fun

with the way he films a child standing in front of a fire that’s burning between the railway tracks, an almost exact visual quotation from the end of Michael Haneke’s Time of the Wolf. Boyle’s upbeat, infectious optimism couldn’t be much further removed from Haneke’s apocalyptic dourness, of course – Millions is a proper all-ages crowd-pleaser which will no doubt become a TV Christmas fixture for many years to come – who knows, it might even be still on when Britain finally does get round to taking the Euro-plunge. But don’t put any money on it.

26th October, 2004
[seen 8th October : Odeon, Nuneaton : press show – CinemaDays event]

by Neil Young