“No, we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” — Lord Darlington in Act III of Oscar Wilde’s 1892 play “Lady Windermere’s Fan (A Play About A Good Woman)”
“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” — Portia in Act 5 of William Shakespeare’s 1596-97 (circa) play “The Merchant of Venice”
No deep dive into the quotes above – just know the cinematic story of British folk hero Maurice Flitcroft in Sony Pictures Classic’s “The Phantom of the Open” borrows directly and indirectly from those words.
Flitcroft (played with his usual still-waters-run-deep brilliance by Oscar-winner Mark Rylance) is a crane operator in England’s industrial north (Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, to be exact) who earnestly believes in not only looking at but shooting for the stars. That’s the message he’s preached for years to twin sons Gene and James (the exuberant Christian and Jonah Lees), who regularly distinguish themselves on the dance floor, and to stepson Michael (a well-measured performance by Jake Davies), now a college grad and part of management at Maurice’s employer.
And good deeds? When Maurice (sounds like “Morris”) met Jean (another in a long line of strong showings by Oscar-nominee Sally Hawkins), she was a single mother. It wasn’t long after WWII, when such a situation was usually scandalous in the misnomer that was “polite society.” Maurice didn’t judge — he accepted Jean and Michael with open arms.
What turned Flitcroft from a good-hearted anonymous guy to national folk hero? In 1976 the 46-year-old decided to enter The Open Championship. So what, you say? What if I was to tell you he did so without ever playing a single round of golf before he entered qualifying, and set a record by scoring 121 for 18 holes? Okay, given the fact he’d never played that’s easy to believe. What’s not so easy, and what added greatly to his life (and the movie) is what followed that unforgettable moment in golf history.
Yes, there were those in the golf establishment that weren’t pleased at all, as typified by pompous Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews official Keith Mackenzie (played to fuming comic perfection by Rhys Ifans). But Brits love their eccentric sportsmen (like Eddie the Eagle, to name just one). And so, it turns out, did some folks in the United States. But for that and more, you’ll need to watch the film.
The movie is a good deed in itself during our current era of upheaval. No, it’s not some heavyweight “Why didn’t they wait until awards season to release this?” movie, though I wish the British and American film academies cared more about such feel-good films than they do.
“The Phantom of the Open” has good acting, a well-paced, warm and funny script by actor/writer Simon Farnaby (who has a golfing cameo in the feature) based on the 2010 book he wrote with sports journalist Scott Murray on Flitcroft, and vivid directing flourishes from Welsh actor-turned-director Craig Roberts. Kudos also go to Kit Fraser’s often-inventive cinematography, Jonathan Amos’ crisp editing and period-perfect contributions from production designer Sarah Finlay, Isobel Waller-Bridge’s music (with musical supervision by Phil Canning), Sian Jenkins’ costumes and Tara McDonald’s hair and makeup.
Its release in our area is quite limited; hopefully one can see it at a theater, but if not, watch/stream/rent it when it appears in home-friendly formats. One doesn’t have to care about golf (or any sports) to root for Flitcroft and feel quite happy after this 106-minute love letter to dreamers is over.
“The Phantom of the Open” continues this week in Franklin at AMC Thoroughbred 20 and in Murfreesboro at AMC Murfreesboro 16. It’s rated PG-13 for “some strong language and smoking” by the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) of the Motion Picture Association (MPA). Click here for more info and tickets to showings at those theaters and others elsewhere.