What would you do if a bagful of money landed in your hands straight from the sky? This is the dilemma faced by kids Damian and Anthony in Millions, Danny Boyle’s adaptation of the children’s novel by 24-Hour Party People screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce.
Eight-year old Damian (Alex Etel) and his slightly older and much wiser brother Anthony (Lewis McGibbon) have moved to a new estate with their dad Ronnie (James Nesbit) who is struggling to juggle his life as a single dad after the death of his wife. Damian deals with the loss of his mother by hallucinating about saints while the less saintly Anthony uses it to con things from strangers.
Things get more exciting for the boys when Damian discovers a bagful of money and race to spend it all before Britain converts to the Euro. But having lots of money is not all it is cracked up to be and soon it brings about stress, lies and arguments. Anthony wants to invest it wisely but Damian wants to give it to the poor. Damian’s idealistic view of the world is challenged when he discovers that it is not a gift from God but the result of a bungled railway heist. Things get even more complicated when the owner of the bag decides he wants it back and charity worker Dorothy (Daisy Donovan) enters their lives and their father’s bedroom.
Millions is a straightforward tale with complex themes, which are subtly played out and never mawkish. It works because Cottrell Boyce and Boyle have successfully given adults access into a child’s world rather than offered an adult perspective of how children live. It is not easy to create a watchable movie that hinges 100% on two child stars but Millions achieves this through excellent writing and direction, as well as the sheer strength of the Etel’s and McGibbon’s performances. Both deliver sincere, natural interpretations of Cottrell Boyce’s carefully constructed characters.
It is a return to form for Boyle who has struggled to live up to the impact of Trainspotting. Although Millions‘s subject could not contrast more with that movie, stylistically there are similarities. It displays the visual creativity and the hi-energy MTV gloss that made Irvine Welsh’s gritty tale easier to swallow. A memorable sequence is an action-packed replay of the robbery, narrated by a 10-year old schoolboy accompanied at full blast by Muse‘s rock anthem Hysteria. It is exhilarating stuff.
Millions‘ transition from book to screen was destined to be smooth since Cottrell Boyce originally intended it to be a screenplay. The book, which is aimed at kids aged nine and over is a lovely read, but the film offers a visual treat with excellent performances and a stunning soundtrack. It also portrays a Britain rarely seen on screen that is a more accurate depiction of how people really live: lower middle class families in homogenised housing estates in commuter belt areas. It is truthful British film-making that is not trying to pander to US audiences and for that alone it deserves to be seen.