REVIEW: The Phantom of the Open (London Film Festival 2021)

Phantom of the Open

The Phantom of the Open is the ultimate underdog story – insofar as dogs don’t come much more under than Maurice Flitcroft. Eddie the Eagle looks positively overqualified by comparison.

Maurice (winningly played1by Mark Rylance) is a middle-aged crane driver in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, who has deferred his dreams for the sake of his family. Now, with layoffs looming, his wife Jean (Sally Hawkins in lovely, supportive mode) asks the question: What do you want to do?

The answer that Maurice impulsively arrives at is to compete in the British Open, which proves to be a remarkably simple process. The only issue is, he’s never so much as played a round of golf.

Director Craig Roberts has made a career of documenting, and playing, lovable misfits and Maurice definitely meets the criteria. Amiably befuddled, with ill-fitting dentures threatening to erupt at any moment, Rylance completely sells Maurice’s newfound obsession. “Practice is the road to perfection” is his mantra and he’s not about to let that lack of it, or any discernible ability, get in his way.

As Maurice pursues increasingly desperate measures to compete – a matter of historical record, but one which I won’t spoil here – The Phantom of the Open shows us the cost of this can-do attitude; particularly on his son Mike (Jake Davies), whose rise through upper management is jeopardised as his dad becomes an unlikely cause célèbre.

The film is ultimately upbeat about Maurice and his ill-conceived endeavour; even if the establishment, as embodied by Rhys Ifans’ aggrieved Scottish official, would rather he take up gardening. Simon Farnaby’s charming script balances the innate comedy of a man clearly out of his depth with class commentary – Maurice is clearly not welcome at the local golf club, forced instead to hacking about on the beach – and some less successful magical realist touches; like Maurice being literally/figuratively being launched into orbit upon discovering his new passion.

Maurice’s real life was certainly strange enough: two of his sons, identical twins James and Gene (Jonah and Christian Lee), were disco champions, as reflected in the film’s soundtrack.2

The Phantom of the Open is a perfect Sunday afternoon dramedy that might just inspire you to try out that new hobby, maybe even pick up a golf club. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

The Phantom of the Open is due for release in UK cinemas on April 12th, 2022

  1. No irony intended.
  2. Though the film fails to note that they were both early recipients of an ASBO, reportedly for sword-fighting. With each other.

Author: robertmwallis

Graduate of Royal Holloway and the London Film School. Founder of Of All The Film Sites; formerly Of All The Film Blogs. Formerly Film & TV Editor of The Metropolist and Official Sidekick at A Place to Hang Your Cape. Co-host of The Movie RobCast podcast (formerly Electric Shadows) and member of the Online Film Critics Society.

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