Living review: Bill Nighy learns to enjoy life

Bill Nighy in Living
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Bill Nighy leads Living, an elegant and rather lovely re-telling of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru – here’s our review.

I’m not familiar with the Akira Kurosawa film Ikiru, which turns out to be no prerequisite for director Oliver Hermanus and screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro’s modern-day retelling of the story. That said,there’s a much cleverer review out there that contrasts the movies: for the purposes of this particular piece, it’s a simple imploring of you to check the new film out.

Living casts Bill Nighy as Mr Williams, a civil servant working in town planning decades ago, with well-dressed people shuffling folders from one tray to another. It’s all very polite and ineffective work, most notably brought to the fore in his interaction with a collection of mothers trying to get permission for a small playground to be built.

Hermanus builds this world diligently and with a patience rarely afforded in cinema. This is absolutely a big-screen film,with the camera moving slowly, soaking up detail and putting at its heart a still, controlled, contained performance from its leading man. He lives to work, as demonstrated by the distant relationship he has with family.

The turning point of the story is an appointment that Mr Williams has a little way into the film, that starts his story down a different path. Even then, what the film manages to do is escort you towards an end point, but in quite an unexpected way.

Boasting terrific support from Aimee Lou Wood, as the young woman Margaret – with whom he shares a very expensive selection of cakes –Living gradually envelopes you as a quiet, absorbing and tremendously moving film. It’s very accessible, not without wit, but also gives Bill Nighy the space to offer a memorable, affecting acting masterclass.

I think to the quiet dignity of his character in Pride here, where no man has moved me so much buttering bread badly. In Living, he’s topped it. Films shouldn’t be defined by awards, but if Nighy doesn’t need a trip to IKEA by the time gong season is done, something’s gone very, very wrong.

Living is quite something. It’s contained, lean and elegant cinema, and has been lovingly nurtured to the screen. And in Bill Nighy’s leading man, it has one of the best performances of the year.

Living is in UK cinemas now.

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