Review: The Phantom of the Open

Directed by Craig Roberts and written by Simon Farnaby, the story of golfer Maurice Flitcroft whose performance at the 1976 British Open Golf Championship made him a legend. Starring: Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, Rhys Ifans, Mark Lewis Jones, Nigel Betts, Johann Myers, Jake Davies, Jonah Lees and Christian Lees.

You may be apprehensive about jumping into this film if you have zero interest in golf but ignore those instincts because you don’t need to enjoy the sport at all to love this film. What’s surprising is this doesn’t play out like your traditional underdog story, instead its focus is more centred on how fascinating and committed of a man Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance) was. The writing captures a tone and atmosphere that is utterly British, the dialogue is wonderfully down to earth and casually funny. The comedy is extremely consistent and pays homage to the Brit comedies of the 70s and 80s, but never feels forced. Part of that is due to the unbelievable nature of Maurice’s story, it’s almost too good to be true, and diving into this with no knowledge or prior googling is highly recommended.

Simon Farnaby may be more recognised for his work in front of the camera but he’s been slowly building himself a solid filmography as a writer. He’s next to be seen starring in Wonka, which he’s co-written with Paul King, as well as having co-written Robert Zemeckis’s upcoming adaptation of Pinocchio. He has a slight advantage with The Phantom of the Open, having literally written the book on it, and does justice to Maurice’s story by not only making it entertaining from start to finish but bringing through a remarkably touching, sweet edge. It’s heart-warming to the point of tearing up, which is entirely unexpected for a film about golf but again it goes to show how the game is secondary at best to the soul of this story.

The directorial style is perfectly what you’d expect from a filmmaker with Craig Roberts’ background, while it is mostly mainstream styled entertainment but Roberts still manages to instil it with an independent energy. For the most part the film simply adds a charm and vibrant energy to the otherwise ordinary but then switches gears every so often to surreal dream sequences, akin to Dexter Fletcher’s work on Rocketman or John Carney’s Sing Street. They push the sweetness, positivity and high hopes of the film, but are realistically fairly unnecessary and may not work for everyone. Overall, its visual is incredibly colourful, the direction has a strong personality to it, keenly reflecting Maurice’s eccentricities. The editing (by Jonathan Amos) adds a satisfyingly speedy pace to a lot of scenes, and a great amount of movement which feels familiar but still fresh.

Mark Rylance is not an actor who follows a pattern, except for that whatever character he may be playing, they’re always charismatic. He brings that quality out in full force here, he’s a sheer joy to watch as Maurice, a kind, gentle, dreamer who likes to live slightly outside of reality. He’s paired wonderfully with Sally Hawkins, the two make a perfect couple and double down on the sweetness. Hawkins is the wife who shares the dream but has her feet just enough on the ground to keep them afloat. There’s a whole ragtag ensemble going on here, with a huge variety of characters and everyone works superbly well together but there’s no denying that Rylance and Hawkins steal the show. They have a strong chemistry, connection and patter that doesn’t miss a beat, you can’t take your eyes off of them and it’s bittersweet to see them go when the credits roll.

The Phantom of the Open is set to be a treasure of British cinema, an almost unbelievable and ceaselessly entertaining story, told with true Brit style and a star couple leading the show. It’s surprisingly touching, very funny, sweet and bursting with charm, so much so that you could absolutely hate golf and still have a great time with this film.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯½

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2021 –
Coming to UK cinemas 15 April 2022

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