Golden: Our 50 Years of Marriage review: 'Something vanishingly rare in modern life: a programme about old people. And a positive one, at that'
Golden: Our 50 Years of Marriage, just aired on RTE One, was a sweet, charming, at times even beautiful documentary about love, marriage, affection, loyalty, standing together to endure the slings and arrows of this thing called life. It was also something vanishingly rare in modern life: a programme about old people. And a positive one, at that.
One of the worst things about modern culture is how youth-centric it is. I guess this is making up for the four millennia or so when young people were basically disregarded by culture and political society, but since World War II, the western world has been pretty much saturated by material about kids. (That can mean anything from actual small children, through young adulthood, right up to those infantile idiots in their forties who still act as they did in their teens and twenties: using a skateboard, wearing combat shorts and sandals to work, “planning their summer”, stupid stuff like that.)
And one of the deleterious effects of this juvenilia-fetish is that older folks have been almost completely ignored, or worse, derided. In a world where the slightest hint of sexist, racist, homophobic etc. language can lose someone their job, it seems perfectly alright to kick seven metaphorical shades out of a person, purely because of their age.
(Ironically, these two phenomena often coincide. “Ugh! How dare he express that mildly dissenting opinion about women! He’s so OLD! Eew! And disgusting! Because he’s OLD!”)
In the height of post-Brexit hysteria, for instance, we literally had people calling for younger people’s votes to carry more weight than their seniors’ – because they’re OLD! Ugh!!! – and agitating for a fresh vote in a few years, when this “gang of angry old men, irritable even in victory” will be “freshly in their graves”. That’s a real quote from Ian McEwan. He won the Booker, you know.
Anyway, Golden gave a good sock in the eye to all of this heinous gerontophobia by presenting an unsentimental, but very affecting, look at the lives of eight couples, all together now for at least half a century (hence the title, significant-anniversary-name fans).
Indeed one pair, Ned and Eileen, are almost 50% past that remarkable figure already – they’ve been married for 73 years. Over the course of an hour we also met ballroom-dancing romantics Paddy and Joan, love-across-the-barricades mixed-religion couple Pierce and Joan, and Dutch twosome Kees and Anneke, living here for more than 50 years and – most importantly – supplying apples to Bulmer’s for their cider. Slurp.
Michael and Mary met in London. So did Lucy and Johnny. Eileen and Jack married when she fell pregnant – it all worked out fine (well, obviously). Meanwhile ex-NYPD cop Pat and wife Kathleen, whose charity Project Children – which brought kids from the north to America during the Troubles – has already been the subject of its own documentary.
Their stories were told through a mix of talking-heads interviews, observational footage and the irresistible force of nature that is an old photograph – seriously, who can resist? – blended together through unobtrusive editing, a gentle tone and a leisurely pace. The stories were allowed to tell themselves.
And what those stories told us, the ignorant public, was this: old people have desires and insights, they can be funny and provocative, they show affection and like a good row, they can be kind-hearted and as tough as old boots at the same time. They remember the past and still dream of days to come.
In short – amazing as it may sound – they’re actually not that different from the rest of us. As a one-hour bit of telly, Golden is well worth watching. As a salutary lesson to society about checking ourselves and showing a smidgeon more respect to our elders (and betters), it should be made a mandatory part of the national curriculum.