Phantom Of The Open review: a breath of mainstream cinematic kindness

The Phantom Of the Open poster with Mark Rylance as Maurice Flitcroft
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The Phantom Of The Open, a heartwarming film starring Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, and Rhys Ifans – and here’s our review.

Maurice Flitcroft is a decent man. Played on screen by Mark Rylance, we meet him in 1970s Britain, a shipyard worker in Barrow-in-Furness, with his and his colleagues’ jobs seemingly constantly under threat. Keen to explore his talents, he decides – as you do –to enter the British Open Golf Championships, in spite of one tiny obstacle: he’s never played a game of golf in his life.

No matter. Encouraged by Jean, his wife (the always-excellent Sally Hawkins), he duly follows his hare-brained scheme, not always to the delight of his family. And in theory, the scene is set for a fun, fluffy comedy, the kind of movie the British film industry used to make rather well.

But it’s not always clear where The Phantom Of The Open is going. Based on a true story, and then based on Scott Murray’s book of the same name, screenwriter Simon Farnaby (whose last movie screenplay credit was Paddington 2) has absolute laser-focus hereon the humanity of Flitcroft ’s story, and a core of kindness. In a film where it would have been easy to hold Flitcroft up as a figure of ridicule, the story goes the other way. He’s not only clearly having fun with the establishment, he’s gradually becoming a folk hero, much – of course – to the disgust of Rhys Ifans’s very movie-like official.

I confess to not being familiar with Flitcroft’s story, and so quite where the narrative ultimately ventured caught me just a little off guard. What also got me was just how thoroughly lovely the resultant film is. Directed by Eternal Beauty’s Craig Roberts, this is a mix of charming caper, warm family comedy, and just delightful, heart-warming cinema, with Rylance expertly cast as a cinematic hero very much worth cheering on.

Furthermore, it sidesteps the obvious pitfalls of the sports film, given the fact that the character at the centre of the piece has precisely zero chance of winning anything as we watch him hit a golf ball for the first time. The skill though is we’re still there absolutely rooting for him. Farnaby’s script quickly establishes and sticks to a delightful tone, and there’s a sense of community, family, and mischief bubbling together here.

The Phantom Of The Open is a real treat, a perfect double bill with Dexter Fletcher’s equally warm 2016 film Eddie The Eagle, and a rare breath of mainstream cinematic kindness. Do seek it out if you can.

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