Sue Johnston's set for a crime caper

Sue Johnston's set for a crime caper

Written by Alison James

Fate, the pensions crisis and a steadfast refusal to accept the injustice of old age contrive to force law-abiding retired couple Arthur and Martha Goode into a life
of crime. Refusing to take the loss of their pensions lying down and fade away into their declining years they decide to fight back and, under the cloak of old age, start robbing banks – and all to help save their community and local bowls club!

That’s the story of the new eagerly-anticipated British heist film Golden Years, written, incidentally, by TV DIY-er Nick Knowles.

And what a cast has been assembled. Virginia McKenna (Born Free), Alun Armstrong (New Tricks), Bernard Hill (Wolf Hall), Una Stubbs (Sherlock), Simon Callow (Four Weddings and a Funeral) and Yours favourite Sue Johnston.

Even little kids call me Sheila, my Brookside character, when I'm out and about. That always amazes me as I stopped playing her years before they were born

Sue plays Nancy, long-suffering wife of the policeman trying to solve the crimes, but it’s clear she has some sympathy with Arthur and Martha, the movie’s mature ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ figures, played by Bernard Hill and Virginia McKenna. Odds are that Sue herself may feel much the same way. It’s been rumoured that she took on the role of Nancy because, in addition to relishing the prospect of having a laugh working with the likes of Virginia and Bernard, she was sympathetic to the Goode’s cause. Certainly she has never been backwards at coming forwards at what she sees as life’s injustices.

Speaking recently Sue said: “A lot people feel there isn’t any connection made between their lives and the people who are making the laws. I still get up and shout when I feel something needs to be done.”

It’s that passion and commitment that has helped power Sue through a distinguished career. Born in Warrington, Lancashire she left school aged 17 after one year of her A-level course, having decided to become an actress. Her big break came in 1982 when she landed the role of Sheila Grant in Channel 4’s Brookside. Unbelievably, it’s now 25 years since Sue (73) left the Liverpool-based soap in which she made her name. And though she’s played a host of memorable characters since, she still gets called Sheila when she’s out and about. “Even by little kids – that always amazes me considering I stopped playing Sheila years before they were born!” she says.

“I also get called Barbara because of the Royale Family but, more and more people are starting to call me Sue. I don’t mind at all. Everyone’s always so nice. I just feel very fortunate to still be employed. And I feel so blessed that I have managed to earn a good living out of doing what I love to do.”

When she’s not working Sue, who moved out of London three years ago back to her native North West, loves spending time with her three grandchildren – and going to watch Liverpool football team play at Anfield. “I never grow tired of that first rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’

It sends shivers down my spine. To be part of the crowd is such  a wonderful feeling. It is very empowering,” says Sue.

So what’s next?  Speaking recently she said she’d love to do a Hollywood film and also spend three months in Italy. “I spent an awful lot of time in the Eighties and early Nineties in Italy, and I’d like to live there for a while and soak it all in again,” she said. Sounds fantastico but for now, we’re just glad she agreed to be part of Golden Years. By all accounts the cast had a ball filming together. “We all got on like a house on fire,” says co-star Virginia McKenna. And hopefully we’ll have a ball watching the film

  • Golden Years is released in cinemas on April 29
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A woman of many parts

  • Sue made her TV debut at 38 with a minor recurring role on Coronation Street in the summer of 1982, playing Mrs Chadwick, wife of a bookmaker, before landing the role of Brookside’s Sheila Grant (below, with on-screen hubby Ricky Tomlinson).
  • Since then she’s been in many drama series and films, including Inspector Morse, Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, Brassed Off and My Uncle Silas.
  • She is also well known for her role as Barbara Royle in the BBC comedy series The Royle Family, appearing with her former on-screen husband in Brookside,Ricky Tomlinson.
  • From 2000 to 2011 she starred in the television series Waking the Dead, in which she played the role of psychological profiler Grace Foley, alongside Trevor Eve. Most recently, she appeared in Downton Abbey.