The Phantom of the Open

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

The Phantom of the Open
dir Craig Roberts
scr Simon Farnaby
prd Kate Glover, Nichola Martin, Tom Miller
with Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, Jake Davies, Jonah Lees, Christian Lees, Rhys Ifans, Steve Oram, Ash Tandon, Mark Lewis Jones, Johann Myers, Barry Aird, Ian Porter
release UK Oct.21 lff
21/UK BBC 1h42

rylance ifans oram
london film fest

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Lees, Lees, Hawkins and Rylance
A likeable crowd-pleaser, this lively British comedy recounts a true story with style. It's the iconic tale of Maurice Flitcroft, who blagged his way into the British Open despite never having played a round of golf. The story's appeal is that it really happened, and the characters spring to life in Craig Roberts' inventive direction. It's also a punchy reminder seize every opportunity to chase your dreams.
In late-1960s Lancashire, shipyard worker Maurice (Rylance) discovers that the British Open admits anyone, so he decides to submit an application. Unable to practice on a course, he makes due with the beach. His wife Jean (Hawkins) is fully supportive, as are their younger twin sons (Jonah and Christian Lees), but older son Mike (Davies) is worried that his embarrassing dad might damage his career as a manager at the shipyard. Especially after Maurice plays the worst round of golf in Open history. But he also becomes a folk hero in the process.
Rooting for a quirky underdog is British tradition (see Eddie the Eagle or any Eurovision contest), and this movie plays this perfectly, with added fantastical flourishes that get into the upbeat mindset. The Flitcroft family is loveably naive about pretty much everything, which is sometimes implausible but always charming. Maurice simply can't see any reason why he wouldn't be able to play alongside the best in the world, and he doesn't let this inexperience stop him. Indeed, he competed in the Open several more times in disguise.

Rylance goes all in as the hilariously gung-ho Maurice, never taking no for an answer while encouraging his family to follow their hearts as well. This allows the Lees brothers a chance to strut their stuff as the Flitcroft twins become disco champs. And Hawkins gives a warmly endearing turn as a loyal wife and mother who knows the reality but isn't afraid to indulge her husband's happy fantasy. Side roles are amusing, including Ifans as the blustering Open boss, screenwriter Farnaby as a flustered competitor and Oram as Mike's weak-spined boss.

Thankfully, the narrative hasn't been wrestled into the usual losers-triumph story structure. Instead it unfolds more organically, following the family through a series of witty situations while focusing on their interplay rather than the absurdities. And while some of the stylistic touches seem a bit overreaching, Roberts keeps the film in lockstep with Maurice's life-affirming worldview, which makes it a refreshingly optimistic blast of air in a cynical world.

cert 12 themes, language 11.Oct.21 lff

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall