The Phantom of the Open – Film Review
Director: Craig Roberts
Writers: Simon Farnaby (screenplay) Scott Murray(book ‘The Phantom of the Open’ by)
Stars: Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins
Duration: 106 minutes
Maurice Flitcroft is an unlikely hero. He works as a crane operator in the Barrowfurnass shipyard as Thatcher’s England begins to bite. He raises his wife’s first child as his own, in a time when children ‘born out of wedlock’ were stigmatised, scorned and shunned. His stepping up as a Dad is the first indication that our quiet screen hero is a man of many surprises.
Based on a true story of a ‘scammer golfer’ Flitcroft, who entered the British Open Golf Championship having never played before, and recorded its worst-ever score (121 – not bad!). This film rectifies the reputation of a man who may have scammed the Golf elite, but his character and reasoning show no basis of a scammer – just a dreamer…and we all need to dream. His later appearances all showed that his playing did improve against the odds.
The screenplay has a few laugh out loud moments but shows warmth and empathy for Flitcroft which appears long overdue. Mark Rylance delivers a beautifully studied Flitcroft, worthy of a man of the theatre. He struggles a little with the playing age, as most of the plot is set when he was a younger man. Sally Hawkins is his well-matched wife Jean and mother of Mike (Jake Davies), and identical champion disco dancing twins ‘The Fantastic Flitcrofts’ (Jonah and Christian Lees).
The development of the family unit in the economically challenged 80s is well handled and the contrast of the growing sophistication of the sons, versus their simpler (but not to be underestimated) father, drives the plot into a more convincing dramatic story.
Enhanced by simple animation and a sense of period (the modern house door latch being the only glitch) the film is a nostalgic and feel-good story that is perfectly pitched for an audience emerging from the isolation of Covid times. The wisdom of this eccentric, gentle man is not missed: ‘a mistake is an opportunity to learn’…’practice is the road to perfection’ is not the motivation of a scammer, but a teacher. The lessons impact on his three sons at a different speed used to enhance the essential ‘feelgood’ ingredient that will endear this film to many.
There is slapstick in the disguises, bittersweet moments of an unsung hero, a ‘Walter Mitty’ subtext and as British film can do very well, a large dose of nostalgia. The acting throughout is strong with nicely formed and delivered cameo and supporting roles from Mark Lewis Jones, Nigel Betts and many others which often mark out a quality British film. If you feel this film is just about golf and for golfers, you will miss out on a clever script, warm characters and the ultimate wisdom of the local eccentric in the community. Flitcroft didn’t have it easy, but he had it his way, and we are the better for witnessing his intriguing story. There can be success in failure as long as you are not afraid to give it a go.