Millions

Starring Alex Etel, Lewis Owen McGibbon and James Nesbitt. Directed by Danny Boyle.
Running Time: 98 mins
Rated: Rated PG

It is very surprising to see a modern film that takes up religious themes as Millions does.


It is a feelgood film, helped immensely by the charming, naively innocent but shrewdly wise performance of Alex Etel as Damian, the younger brother of Anthony. They have recently lost their mother and have had to move house with their father (James Nesbitt).


Anthony says that Damian is weird. Damian seems weird because he sees things and people, and talks to them.

Damian knows all about the saints, can tell you their dates straight off and has no hesitation or embarrassment in talking about them. In fact, he sees many of them as they visit him in his cardboard carton cubbyhouse or at home. He knows he sees things, but he likes to talk to the saints, creating them as he imagines them, though the down-to-earth, smoking St Clare explaining about how she is patroness of television comes as a bit of a surprise.

Other saints who visit Damian include Francis of Assisi (as Damian sets free boxes of birds), Nicholas of Myra (who speaks in Latin and refers to his Santa Claus tradition), St Peter (Alun Armstrong) with a very interesting riff on the feeding of the five thousand as well as a shrug and pointing upwards, "I'm on the gate', St Joseph who coaches Damian on how he should say his lines in the Nativity play and the martyrs of Uganda who explain to him the need for water in their country and how aid can help.

On a personal note, I had a great empathy with the film: two little boys whose mother had died (much the same age as my brother and I were when our mother died), trying to cope, deal with moves and changes, new schools, understanding their father.

Actually, we had lots of saints' language in those days, after all I am writing of 1947 and the 1950s. Our mother's anniversary of death was like a feast day. She was now a saint. It is the same with Damian. He asks the saints whether they have seen his mother in heaven. And it does not spoil the ending to reveal what he might have hoped for, that his mother finally appears to him, and the sceptical Anthony also sees her.

This knowledge of the lives and legends of the saints is not commonplace anymore. Millions reminds us that we could do with a bit more knowledge of and affection for the saints. We glimpse a copy of a book called "Six O'Clock Saints'. That was obligatory reading for us back in primary school, they were even read aloud at boarding school before the weekly film screening. Joan Wyndham wrote many of these books. They delighted our imaginations. The IMDb biography of Frank Cottrell Boyce notes that he heard Martin Scorsese refer to The Six O'Clock Saints and his childhood. It means that Millions communicates a great deal of children's responses to religion and faith.

There is a lot more to Millions as well, especially in terms of money. When Damian discovers a bag full of money, he thinks it is from God and he wants to distribute it to the poor. His eager but non-worldly-wise ways of doing this are part of the humour and the sentiment. Young Damian is an idealist: a creatively imaginative little boy whose face to the world is principled and personal generosity, coping with the money, criminals and police and doing the right and honest thing.

For British audiences the whole film is idealist. In fact, it is more than a bit of a make-believe story because the setting is the UK changing from sterling to the euro! Frank Cottrell Boyce has written many screenplays, quite a number for Michael Winterbottom. His versatile portfolio includes Butter fly Kiss, Welcome to Sarajevo, Wonderland. More surprising is the choice of director, Danny Boyle, best known for Shallow Grave and Trainspotting as well as The Beach and Twenty Eight Days Later.

Millions is a very nice film. It may seem too nice to more "sophisticated' tastes, but audiences who enjoyed the story of Billy Elliot and other tales of youngsters will not be sorry they saw Millions.

Fr Peter Malone MSC is the President of SIGNIS: the World Association for Catholic Communications and an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.


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