The Phantom of the Open: a shining portrayal for the World’s Worst Golfer

Mark Rylance and Sally Hawkins elevate Simon Farnaby’s farcical script into something with genuine emotional heft amongst the folly

Starring Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, Rhys Ifans, Jake Davies, Christian Lees, Jonah Lees, Mark Lewis Jones, and Johann Myers

The Phantom of the Open is proof that truth is stranger than fiction. Telling the story of Maurice Flitcroft, who decided to take up golf and enter the British Open and named by the press as “the world’s worst golfer” and then proceeded to re-enter on several occasions under various disguises, The Phantom of the Open truly beggars belief. Not because of the plot content, which is wonderfully whimsical, but because it somehow achieves the impossible by telling a tall tale yet filling it with such a sense of love and affection that creates a brilliantly uplifting, heartwarming and even inspirational film.

Maurice Flitcroft (Mark Rylance) is the epitome of the everyman character: a true underdog. As a shipyard crane operator, Flitcroft has never dared to dream in his life before, preferring to keep a regular income coming in to help support wife Jean (Sally Hawkins) and her son Michael (Jake Davies), and their twin children Gene (Christian Lees) and James (Jonah Lees). Seeing the golf on the TV one evening, however, he suddenly finds himself transported (quite literally) and is determined to enter the Open championship himself.

Maurice is made infinitely likeable in Mark Rylance’s hands as he turns in a committed, blissfully naïve portrayal that highlights Maurice’s seemingly infinite capacity for optimism and hopefulness. It’s farcical and bizarre, but infinitely watchable and strangely inspirational. Despite Maurice’s talent clearly not matching his skill, and with all the odds mounted against him (he doesn’t have enough money to afford expensive golf clubs, so gets the cheapest ones, and is unable to join a golf club and has to train on the beach), Flitcroft continues to bounce back, unfettered by his latest setback.

Amidst the wonderfully diverting, amusing humour that derives from watching Maurice’s incredibly believable ineptitude at golf (I, myself, would also fail to pot a hole – is that the terminology? Buggered if I know – at 6 inches away), there’s also a very touching portrayal of a supportive family. The film is suitably buoyed by quieter moments from Sally Hawkins as Maurice’s unflappably devoted wife Jean, who refuses to let him feel bad for pursuing his dreams and focusing on himself. This kind of balance of whimsy, farce and heart is typical from writer Simon Farnaby, whose previous credits include co-writing Paddington 2 and appears in the film as professional golfer Lambert.

The cinematography and score only serve to enhance the tone of the film. The shooting style matches the time period of the 70s and the surreal dreamscapes use contemporary methods which enhances this visual language, while the score by Isobel Waller-Bridge adds to the bubbly optimism of Maurice’s exploits.

A comedy that’s played straight, The Phantom of the Open is wonderfully silly but also brilliantly touching.

The Phantom of the Open was released in cinemas on 18 March 2022.

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