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The Phantom of the Open

  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
The Phantom of the Open
Photograph: Nick Wall

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Mark Rylance scores again in an amiable golf-centric comedy that mostly manages to stay out of the rough

It’s not just its 1970s setting that gives Craig Roberts’ based-on-truth comedy a retro mood.
It feels like something pulled from the late-’90s, when every British film seemed to be about
Northern eccentrics showing off. It has a bit of the mood of The Full Monty or Brassed Off
about it, and if it’s not as good as either of those it has a gentle upbeat cheeriness that’s
hard to resist.

Mark Rylance plays Maurice Flitcroft, a crane-driver from the north east of England who decides to have a crack at entering the British Open golf championship. Flitcroft has never picked up a golf club but doesn’t see why that should be any barrier. If you don’t try you won’t know if you’re any good at it. Maurice tries and he isn’t, amassing the worst score ever seen in the championship. Yet his pluck and eternal optimism make him a minor sports star as he upsets the stuffy golf world and keeps entering the championship in a series of increasingly absurd disguises, defying repeated bans.

Rylance, sporting a pair of false teeth almost as absurd as those in Don’t Look Up, is terrific,
underplaying Flitcroft’s absurdities so that he comes off as sweet-natured optimist, rather
than the arrogant chancer his actions suggest. Sally Hawkins is affecting in the quite dull role
of Flitcroft’s wife, whose entire life seems to be dedicated to supporting her husband.

It feels like something pulled from the late-’90s, when every British film seemed to be about Northern eccentrics showing off

Simon Farnaby’s script is content to take Flitcroft at face value, viewing his life as a constant
lark, rather than dig into what makes someone so determined to become famous for
something they’ve no particular interest in.

Roberts occasionally overdoes the whimsy, slipping in cutesy Michel Gondry-ish elements – a dream sequence with a stop-motion look; snow that looks like torn paper thrown off a
roof – and it’s a blessing he uses them rarely. The plot is already twee enough; too much
directorial cuteness could push it into cloying. It’s much better when he keeps his direction
simple and lets the truth of Flitcroft’s ridiculous life do the work.

In UK cinemas Fri Mar 18

Olly Richards
Written by
Olly Richards

Cast and crew

  • Director:Craig Roberts
  • Screenwriter:Simon Farnaby
  • Cast:
    • Jake Davies
    • Mark Rylance
    • Sally Hawkins
    • Mark Lewis Jones
    • Rhys Ifans
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