It might seem like an odd choice for Danny Boyle, director of edgy films about smack addicts and zombies – ok, ok, I know they weren’t technically zombies – but Millions proves that the director of The Beach, Trainspotting, and 28 Days Later has a softer side. It’s also sweet, funny, and enormously engaging.
The North East of England, a few years from now. Britain is about to convert to the Euro – secure trains criss-cross the country taking euros to the bank and sterling to the incinerators. 8-year-old Damian Cunningham (Alex Etel), sitting in his cardboard den by the railway line, is almost killed by an enormous bag of cash that appears to have fallen from the sky (it’s actually the result of a robbery). Damian, an odd little boy obsessed with the lives of saints, thinks that the money has come from God and wants to give it to the poor. His materialistic older brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon) just wants to spend it – preferably by diversifying their property portfolio! But how can an 8 and a 10-year-old hope to spend a quarter of a million quid in just over a week? And what will happen when the robbers catch up with them?
Films starring children live or die by the performances of said children, and lots of child actors are, sadly, absolutely terrible – stiffly over-elocuted stage school brats. Millions is even more demanding in that the central role, Damian, is very young and is on screen about 80% of the time. Thankfully, newcomer Alex Etel is wonderful, completely natural and angelic without being sickening, and he and Lewis McGibbon as Anthony are totally convincing as brothers. Frank Cottrell Boyce (Code 46, 24 Hour Party People) obviously knows kids, and his script is marvellous at capturing the odd, and very funny, things they say and do – both Damian’s innocent otherworldly quality and Anthony’s slick, incongruous, regurgitation of estate agent/accountant patter.
Danny Boyle brings all his experience to bear on what could have seemed like a made-for-tv movie and gives even the most insignificant moments visual flair and interest. In one scene, where Damian moves through his house, rather than tracking him at eye level, the camera peers down from the rafters, following him from room to room. As a schoolboy recounts the story of the robbery, we cut abruptly to the robbery, then back to the kids. Working with cinematographer Anthony Dodd Mantle (28 Days Later, Dogville), Boyle creates a vibrant colour palate for the film which goes against the ‘grim oop north’ stereotype – the sky is always a glorious blue, the houses on the new estate cheery with bright paint – even the kids’s school uniforms are cheerful primary colours.
The sunny look of the film contributes to the magical atmosphere that is conjured up, but the film does have its darker moments. The Poor Man (Christopher Fulford), one of the robbers who has come looking for his money, is, shot from Damien’s perspective, terrifyingly larger than life. It also feels magical, because we’re told that its Christmas, but the film was shot in summer, the grass is Shire-green, the sky is blue, the rape is flowering, no-one wears a scarf, or gloves – this is not grey, blustery England as we know it.
Millions is lovely: refreshingly uncynical, funny and moving – a film about faith that doesn’t preach.
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